Wednesday 5 March 2014

What now for rural broadband?

Just as things were looking up for rural Northumberland in the superfast broadband stakes, the county council has taken action which, in my opinion, could leave many rural residents without access to a modern broadband service.

As you may recall from earlier posts, the current rollout of superfast broadband (being undertaken by BT (Openreach) in Northumberland) aims to connect 91% of households to the new fibre optic service. Depending on how far you live from your nearest cabinet this would see you getting speeds from between 2 Mbps and 25+ Mbps. The remaining 9% of premises not covered by the rollout would need alternative provision.

Back in 2011 the county council established the iNorthumberland project to ensure that the remaining 9% of premises would also see some uplift in their broadband speeds. The company formed to deliver this is the Arch Group. However, the county council have just made large cuts to the staff base at Arch Group including the Broadband Manager and his team.

As some of the lowest levels of broadband usage in the country are to be found inNorthumberland I am deeply shocked by the news that key staff at Arch Digital have been removed. If the new broadband delivery team has been slashed then our most rural communities will be the ones to suffer. Our campaigning over the last 3 years has driven the extensive work done to try and deliver broadband to our most rural areas. We need County Hall to stick to its commitment to getting decent broadband to every property, not just those which will be reached now thanks to this Government's funding for BT to rollout to 91% of Northumbrian homes.

Whilst I eagerly await the imminent arrival of superfast broadband here in Stocksfield I know that even here, owing to the rural nature of large parts of the area served by the Stocksfield telephone exchange, there are likely to be a significant number of residents who will not benefit from the 91% coverage. Without the broadband delivery team in place at Arch I am very concerned that these remaining households and small businesses will miss out on a vital 21st century service.

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