As Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt defended his position to the Leverson Enquiry in the House of Commons, next door I briefed our MP’s, Neil Parish and Hugo Swire, prior to a meeting with Broadband Minister, Ed Vaizey. We discussed concerns for the economic future of our area should we be ‘cut adrift’ from the prosperity associated with a Superfast Broadband future, due to the relatively remote rural nature of Uplyme, the rest of Trinity, East Devon and Lyme Regis.
Ed confirmed that his prime target remains the deployment of Superfast (>24Mb) broadband to 90% of premises by 2015. The Devon and Somerset target is 85% rather than 90%. This means that 135,000 premises in Devon & Somerset will not receive Superfast Broadband by 2015. This is the equivalent of a city twice the size of Exeter, or twenty-five times the size of Axminster!
I expressed concern that public comments such as ‘Rural Services would be the same cost and speed as urban areas’ and ‘It will be as easy to setup a creative business on Dartmoor as Central London’ are not realistic, based on these numbers. I believe the Urban : Rural divide is set to rocket rather than decline…
I asked the Minister how investments made by Community Groups to solve their own problems could be protected against unfair competition. The Minister asked the representative of BDUK to investigate.
I sought clarity of where deployment responsibilities lie. The Minister confirmed that this is with Local Authorities, for us Devon County Council.
I met the following day with Keri Denton, the Head of the Broadband project at DCC, and can report two very significant developments, following representations I had previously made on our behalf…
1. Repeatedly since November 2011, I have sought assurance that DEFRA support of Satellite Broadband for our most needy rural areas (many of which are in Trinity!) should not exclude them from the main Connecting Devon and Somerset Project. Until now, no such reassurance had been forthcoming.
The danger was that, being seen as receiving State Aid once, they would be preclude any further support and left with a massively more expensive and inferior broadband service. It has finally been confirmed that these areas will NOT be excluded from the main deployment of Superfast Broadband for this reason. However they remain the most challenging to reach and are likely still to be a low priority (in my personal opinion).
2. “Uplyme & Rousdon are in Devon, served by an exchange in Dorset, so there is no point getting involved as we will never get Superfast Broadband…” I raised this concern with DCC. This was used in national policy debate, as an example of the issues faced in ‘border areas’ where infrastructure does not match county boundaries.
Policies have been refined to allow authorities to invest up to 10Klms into neighbouring authorities, to ensure that their own peripheral areas can receive Superfast Broadband. This is excellent news not only for Uplyme and Rousdon, but also for Lyme Regis who could receive support from Devon towards upgrading of Lyme Regis exchange.
These are fundamental decisions, which help our area, but we should be under no illusion that ‘Superfast Broadband’ is a ‘done deal’ for us. We are poorly located, in relation to existing broadband demand and costs for potential suppliers. To ensure our digital future, more of us need to leave the silent majority and get involved. Are you ‘up for it’?