MPs and industry leaders have been discussing the challenges facing the roll out of Project Gigabit and superfast broadband across the UK.
Chair of the APPG Digital Communications, Selaine Saxby MP (Con, North Devon) led a roundtable discussion last week on the project and the practical barriers being faced by people across all areas.
Speaking to RSN Bulletin, she said many rural communities simply don’t know they have the service which means take up isn’t as high as it could be. Furthermore, she said people are often baffled by the language:
“The technology behind superfast and gigabit broadband is complex,” she said. “In areas where you have historically had poor digital connectivity, why would you have good digital skills.”
She went on to say this mean take up in places like her own constituency of North Devon is not as high as it could be.
“Many of the small providers leaflet the areas they are connecting. But for the bigger companies that doesn’t happen. For communities, a BT Open Reach van for example, parked in their street, could be doing anything. How are people supposed to know that the engineers are installing improved broadband unless someone tells them?”
Ms Saxby is now working with industry leaders on ways this could be addressed. She is also urging people to ask:
“If you are unsure or baffled by the technology, I would urge you to write to your MP for help. They should be able to explain what service your area receives and the options available to you.”
The issue of rural connectivity was also raised in the House of Common this week as Richard Foord (Lib Dem, Tiverton and Honiton) asked the government what more could be done to support people. He said:
“Northleigh is like many other villages in rural Devon in that it has been waiting eight years for superfast broadband. There are 51 houses in Northleigh that are still waiting to be connected. Residents and small businesses are subject to constant emails saying, “Use your vouchers,” but they cannot because contractors are unaccountable. Does the Minister agree with my constituents that the voucher scheme is ineffective and should be scrapped?”
In response the Minister for State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Sir John Whittingdale (Con, Maldon) disagreed with Mr Foord’s summary, saying:
“The voucher scheme has delivered gigabit broadband to thousands of constituents up and down the country. At the same time, we are rolling out the procurement contract. I know that there are particular challenges in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but we have already extended gigabit coverage to 78% of the United Kingdom. I am happy to ask BDUK to discuss with him any specific challenges in his constituency.”
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