Rural broadband hopes dashed
HOPES that rural Suffolk would be one of the first parts of the country to be logged on to a new superfast broadband service have been dashed.
Suffolk MPs who met culture minister Ed Vaizey last month left hoping that the county would be included in a pilot scheme to ensure rural areas had faster broadband speeds.
But now it has emerged that the only areas of England to be included in the trial are Cumbria and rural Herefordshire which will be included alongside the Highlands of Scotland and part of rural Wales.
Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey had been leading the fight to bring broadband to rural parts of her constituency – and insisted that the battle would go on.
She said: “We always knew that Cumbria was almost bound to be included in the trial. That part of the country has suffered over the last year with the floods and the shootings and we thought it would become part of the trial.
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“I don’t know why we lost out to Herefordshire, but then I suppose someone would lose out.”
The first areas are part of a pilot scheme, and Dr Coffey was determined to ensure that Suffolk’s rural areas were not forgotten when the next parts of the country are wired up.
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“We understand that the government will be announcing another tranche of this in the first part of next year and we shall be working hard to ensure Suffolk is included then.”
She was aware that in Suffolk – even within her own constituency – there was a wide variation in broadband availability.
“In some areas, like Felixstowe and the edge of Ipswich, there is very good coverage – but in the rural areas it is dreadful.
“In Westleton (where Dr Coffey lives) it is very bad.”
Graham Downing from the Country Land and Business Association said improving rural broadband coverage is vital.
He lives and runs a publishing business from Chediston near Halesworth.
He said: “It is disappointing that Suffolk was not chosen this time but we have to keep up the pressure.
“You need to be able to upload and download images and stream video – it’s not as if files are going to get any smaller over the years.”
And Mr Downing said it was not just businesses who needed faster broadband.
“It should be regarded as another utility. Everyone should have access to good broadband. You need it for fairly simple things like accessing the BBC iPlayer.
“I can’t use the iPlayer at home. Why should people in rural areas be at a disadvantage like that?” he said.
Mr Downing said his organisation would continue to press MPs to ensure that they kept up pressure on the government to ensure broadband coverage was extended.
“It is becoming a basic requirement in the 21st century,” he said.