Last Friday I joined forces with West Sussex County Council to hold a summit on broadband provision in the county.

Some rural areas in West Sussex can't get a decent internet speed, while others can't get broadband through a landline at all.

There are just four telephone exchanges in England which aren't enabed for broadband, and three of them are in West Sussex!

The aim of the summit, 'West Sussex - Better Connected', was to draw attention to this problem and come up with a solution.

One journalist suggested that rural areas should expect to receive poorer services.

Really?  We appreciate costs like motoring will be higher.  But isn't it fair to expect universal provision of key services, as we do when posting a letter or receiving electricity?  After all, every household can have a landline connected.

We are in the South Downs, less than fifty miles from the centre of London, not on the South Pole!

I believe that access to a fast broadband connection will increasingly be seen as a necessity for every household, whether in a rural area or not.

This isn't just about personal entertainment.  Connection will be vital for small businesses, for people working from home, and for children to learn.  Nor is it just a matter of fairness.  It's about ensuring vital infrastructure to promote sustainable economic growth and jobs in our rural county.

There is already a digital divide between urban and rural provision in this country, and we cannot allow it to widen as superfast broadband is rolled out.

So it's hugely encouraging that, as the Culture Secretary told us on Friday, the Government has pledged over half a billion pounds to give Britain the best broadband network in Europe by 2015.  This means 90 per cent of the country's households having a superfast connection.

West Sussex may not be successful in the next round of funding, to be announced very shortly, but we can build on the summit to shape a successful plan for the next allocation.  A superfast future for West Sussex is within our reach.

The key will be to close the 10 per cent gap, which is bound to be in the rural areas, which the superfast fibre cables won't reach.  But if we work together, with solutions like wireless, this is do-able.

We can't wait for years, or tolerate 'not spots' as we do now.  As one delegate at the summit said, "it's not just about next generation access - it's about now generation access."

Christopher N Howarth