Rural broadband ignored by BT - councillor

RURAL areas are being ignored by telecom giant BT as it rushes to increase the speed of its broadband services in large towns and cities.

That was the claim from Suffolk Green Party councillor Andrew Stringer after a conference this week on how to expand broadband coverage across the county.

Mr Stringer represents a number of small communities across Mid Suffolk on both the district and county councils and was disappointed by BT’s contribution to the conference, held at Trinity Park, hosted by the Suffolk Broadband Partnership and part-funded by Suffolk County Council.

He said: “It seems as if BT is concentrating very much on increasing the speed of broadband to the areas that it already covers but is not doing much to reach out to those areas with poor coverage.

“Take a community like Old Newton in my division – it is only about a mile and a half from a major telephone exchange for Stowmarket yet the broadband there is very poor.”

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He said broadband was now regarded as the “fourth utility” and was needed by both rural businesses and homes in smaller communities.

“When I hear that BT is investing millions or billions on speeding up the service to those who already have broadband I am rather frustrated by the failure to get decent coverage to areas in rural Suffolk,” he said.

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A spokesman for BT said the company was hoping to improve speeds in towns at the same time as extending broadband to rural areas.

He said: “Britain has already got much better broadband coverage than most other countries in Europe and America. That does not mean we can sit back – but there are technical issues we have to work on.

“Broadband signals do degrade as they go through copper wires. You cannot change the laws of physics!”

He said BT engineers, especially those at the research centre at Adastral Park in Martlesham, had been working on trying to improve broadband services to rural areas – although speeds were always likely to be faster in large towns.

“I can understand the frustration of people in communities that don’t seem that far from an exchange – but you have to remember that not all cables go direct from the exchange to a certain village.

“There may be obstacles such as rivers, main roads or railway lines and they may have to go through other communities before they reach a particular village.

“Having said that, we are working to speed up broadband coverage – right now we are working to speed up services from 8Mb to 24Mb in towns.

“In four years time we may be having to explain why villages only have 24Mb when the towns have speeds of up to 100Mb.”

But he warned that extending broadband to rural areas would need some financial help. “It is expensive to roll out broadband – that is why we started in large urban areas. We will be talking to national and local government about how the network can be extended further over the next few years,” he said.

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