For years, too many people in my constituency have had to put up with a poor or non-existent broadband service.  Indeed, until earlier this year, three of the four exchanges in England with no broadband access were in West Sussex.

Good broadband is about more than just leisure.  The rural economy will increasingly  rely on being better connected.  There are huge opportunities here for us.  Last month I attended an event hosted by Google where Arundel was named as one of the top 20 growth areas in the country for e-commerce.

An increasing range of services will be accessed online.  This is why the Government's programme to roll out 100 per cent coverage, including 90 per cent superfast, by 2015 is so important.

Last year I hosted a summit with West Sussex County Council that was addressed by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.  Since then, the Government has approved the County's scheme and given us a £6.2 million grant.

With matched funding from the County Council, and private sponsorship, the pot contains about £15 million to improve our network.  The European Commission has unhelpfully raised issues about whether these schemes amount to unlawful state aid, but these are being addressed.

I recently met the Chief Executive of Horsham District Council who is chairing the broadband plan for West Sussex, and I was pleased to hear that the programme is still on course.  Several village exchanges, including Henfield, are already being enabled by service providers without the need for subsidy.

The new public money will be used to connect the more remote areas where private sector investment is not cost-effective.  But we need to show that there is demand.  Only 2 per cent of the population in West Sussex has registered its interest, and while this is not out of step with other areas, I would still urge everyone who hasn't done so to sign up at

A recent House of Lords report agreed that broadband should be treated as a vital part of national infrastructure, alongside water and electricity.  They also suggested that the Government focus its investment on coverage rather than speed.

But I think it's important that we have both.  We mustn't allow West Sussex to be in the slow lane.

Christopher N Howarth