Broadband Summit paves way to superfast future
Superfast broadband can be made a reality in West Sussex, leading politicians and a senior BT executive told a meeting of local community representatives last week.
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert joined forces with West Sussex County Council last Friday (20 May) to convene ‘West Sussex: Better Connected', a summit on improving broadband provision in the county.
The meeting held at County Hall, Chichester brought together around 100 representatives from community groups, local business and decision makers to discuss ways of improving the standard of broadband provision in the county.
Despite being less than 50 miles from the centre of London, parts of rural West Sussex have poor broadband coverage and some areas such Sutton, Plaistow and East Marden have no coverage at all via a landline. Of the four non-broadband enabled exchanges in England, three are in West Sussex.
Introducing the summit Nick Herbert stressed the importance of broadband as the new ‘fourth utility'. Services would increasingly be provided online and e-commerce was growing.
It was essential for the County's economic development that the existing digital divide was closed and that a new divide, when two-thirds of the country were planning to move to superfast broadband, was not allowed to open up. Mr Herbert said that this was not just about fairness to rural areas - it was also about creating sustainable jobs for the future.
Jeremy Leggett, Chief Executive of Action in Rural Sussex, warned of the damaging impact of poor broadband on rural communities, while the Leader of Chichester District Council, Cllr Myles Cullen, said "it's not just about next generation access - it's about now generation access."
But keynote speeches by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, and Bill Murphy, Managing Director of BT Next Generation Access, gave the summit hope not only of tackling the county's existing ‘not-spots' but also of achieving superfast broadband coverage in West Sussex within a few years.
In his speech the Culture Secretary, who is responsible for broadband, spoke of the need to think big in rolling out superfast broadband, pointing out that "today's superfast might well be tomorrow's superslow."
He pointed to countries like Singapore where upgrades to the current infrastructure are future-proofed to ensure that they do not fall behind. He insisted that any solution in West Sussex should not just solve current problems but must exceed them if it was to be sustainable in the long-term.
Mr Hunt said that, in spite of the deficit, the Government had provided £530 million to deliver its pledge for the UK to have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015.
In his address Bill Murphy used the example of Cornwall, where BT had won the tender to provide superfast broadband, to demonstrate how a similar scheme could work in West Sussex.
Mr Murphy made clear that, while laying fibre cables could solve 90 per cent of the problem, the final 10 per cent would need to be provided by an alternative source, through the mobile network or the wireless service currently offered in parts of West Sussex by Kijoma Broadband.
West Sussex County Council Leader, Cllr Louise Goldsmith set out the County Council's plan to deliver broadband, including a bid in the second round of funding from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).
BDUK, who were represented at the summit, is the body which has been created within the Department of Culture, Media and Sport as the delivery vehicle for the Government's policies on broadband. The national results for the winners of the second round of funding will be announced on May 27.
But if West Sussex is not successful in this round, it will not be the end of the story. Mr Hunt made it clear that, to deliver the Government's pledge to have superfast broadband across 90 per cent of the country by 2015, BDUK would work with West Sussex County Council to arrive at a workable plan.
Other speakers at the summit included Geoffrey Williamson from the Surrey and West Sussex Federation of Small Businesses and John Peel OBE, Chairman of the new Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership.
After the Summit the Culture Secretary commented: "I was delighted to speak at such an impressive event. It was the best broadband summit which I have seen, bringing together representatives of the local community and the industry, and focusing not just on the problem but on shaping a positive plan of action."
Leader of West Sussex County Council Louise Goldsmith said: "I'm delighted at how well the broadband summit went as we have been beavering away on this matter for some time. It was a really interesting day with lots of suggestions on how we can all work together to improve broadband access for our residents and local businesses.
"The County Council is very happy to have worked with Nick in putting together the Broadband Summit. I'm sure we will continue to work together to do all we can to enable better broadband coverage, and I look forward to seeing progress as a result of the summit."
Following the summit Nick Herbert said, "I am increasingly confident that by harnessing today's effort and working together, it will be possible not just to ensure that broadband is available to every household in West Sussex, but also deliver a superfast network for the county.
"We have our work cut out, but I believe that the positive presentations by the Culture Secretary, BT and others have kick-started a concerted effort in our county and showed us that West Sussex can and will be better connected."
Notes for Editors
1. A programme for the summit and a list of delegates can be found here.
2. A full report of the summit can be read here.