Minister pledges fast broadband for every home and business in West Sussex

Every home and business in West Sussex will be entitled to fast broadband by 2020, a Government minister has confirmed.

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The Minister for the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey MP, told a 'digital access summit' convened by Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert on Friday (20 November) that the Government would put access to broadband on a similar footing to services such as water and electricity.

A new broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) will give people the legal right to request a connection to broadband with speeds of 10 Mbps, no matter where they live.

The current guarantee is that premises will have access only to basic broadband of 2 Mbps by the end of this year, which is barely adequate for modern needs.

The summit, hosted by the South Downs National Park Authority in Midhurst, explored how to close the ‘digital divide’ which has seen increasing numbers of premises in West Sussex able to access superfast broadband while others in rural areas are left behind.  The event was attended by elected representatives, businesses, experts and organisations from across the South Downs.

Nick Herbert told the meeting that the broadband summit he had convened with West Sussex County Council in 2011 had resulted in the ‘Better Connected’ programme which would see 95 per cent of premises in the county able to access superfast broadband by 2017.

But this would leave thousands of premises in the county still unable to get superfast, and some were barely able to get broadband at all.  Many areas of the South Downs were also unable to get a good mobile phone signal.

The MP told the meeting: “Today’s challenge is how to close this digital divide.  Good broadband is a necessity, not a luxury.  It’s the fourth public service."

Earlier this month the Prime Minister said that “access to the Internet shouldn’t be a luxury; it should be a right – absolutely fundamental to life in 21st century Britain."

Speaking at the summit the Minister, Ed Vaizey, confirmed the Government’s commitment to ensure that 95 per cent of the country will have access to superfast broadband by the end of 2017.  In West Sussex this is being achieved with more than £21 million of investment from the Government and the County Council.

But he said that the Government wanted to go further with a broadband Universal Service Obligation which would give everyone the legal right to request a connection to broadband with speeds of 10 Mbps by 2020.

The summit also heard from senior executives of BT and Vodafone, representatives of West Sussex and Hampshire county councils, and the Rural West Sussex Partnership.

The Chief Executive of Coast to Capital, the Local Enterprise Partnership, announced funding of £224,000 for pilot schemes to help rural West Sussex businesses to access broadband.

Andrew Field, Superfast Broadband Programme Director at Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the Government body responsible for the broadband roll-out, told the meeting that harder-to-reach properties would receive fast broadband through a range of technologies, including satellite, wireless and fibre.  Many of these solutions were being successfully piloted in other parts of the country.

In response to delegates at the summit who said that they could barely access broadband at all, Mr Field said that a satellite package would be offered to such premises at discounted rates by the end of the year.

Mr Herbert summed up the meeting by urging BDUK and West Sussex County Council to provide more information and a clear timetable for improvements to the rural communities which could not currently access superfast speeds or broadband at all.


Nick HerbertBroadband, SDNPA