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UPDATE MPs Prep Yet Another Rural Broadband Debate at Westminster

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 (11:04 am) - Score 2,091

The Devon (Tiverton and Honiton) MP, Neil Parish, will this afternoon (2:30pm) host yet another live streamed debate at Westminster Hall on the management and delivery of faster broadband connectivity to remote rural areas. Parish will be flanked by fellow Conservative MP Richard Bacon and Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt.

Over the past few months we’ve reported on countless similar debates and reports, most of which have stemmed from political circles, and all of which focus on the same subject. In a way the whole thing is beginning to grind, not least because the Government’s £1.7bn Broadband Delivery UK programme continues to tack along roughly the same course as it set in 2010/11.

No doubt there will be the usual criticism of BT’s dominance in related contracts, as well as concern over how best to deliver and fund superfast broadband (24Mbps+) to the final 5% of remote areas and plenty more along the same lines. Naturally the Country, Land and Business Association (CLA) are also keen to have their say (details).

CLA President, Henry Robinson, said:

We urge MPs to keep the pressure on this vitally important issue. The figures are stark. Ten to 15 percent of the population still cannot get broadband. The Government is only aiming to hit 95 percent by 2017. This still leaves at least five percent with no access to the internet and no target set for when full coverage will finally be delivered.

The rural economy is at risk because Defra and the Rural Payments Agency are the first government departments to move to a ‘digital-by-default’ strategy.

Online applications for farm payments under the Common Agricultural Policy are being rolled out so an effective, reliable and affordable broadband connection for farming businesses has never been more important. Farmers and landowners are reliant on these vital payments for providing food, water and protecting the environment. Yet more than 10 percent of these businesses are struggling to get online to apply.”

Hopefully this afternoon’s debate will also include some reflection for the fact that the programme, despite its well documented flaws, has at least made good progress given the significant technical challenges and limited funding involved. It may even still achieve the original 90% coverage goal on time, although even a slight slip would still be pretty good going for such a huge project.

Coincidentally Patrick Cosgrove, a well-known broadband campaigner for Shropshire, informs us that the House of Commons has just published a new note on broadband performance across the United Kingdom. The note doesn’t actually tell us anything new, although it does include an interesting map of broadband performance by parliamentary constituency (see below).

Otherwise readers can tune in to Watch the Debate Live, although we’d be quite surprised if it resulted in any tangible changes to the current BDUK programme beyond what we already know. Now here’s that map, which uses a House of Commons Library analysis (estimate) of detailed postcode-level data published by Ofcom’s Infrastructure Report in December 2014..

broadband speeds map by parlimentary constituency uk 2014

UPDATE 12:53pm

It’s worth pointing out that some of the CLA’s remarks above are in conflict with the data supplied by Ofcom. For example, the CLA states that “Ten to 15 percent of the population still cannot get broadband” and yet Ofcom states that 97% of the UK are able to access speeds of at least 2Mbps.

The CLA also said that 5% have “no access to the internet“, which may not reflect the actual availability of related connection technologies as basic Internet connectivity is already nearly universal (100%).

Granted we don’t always put a lot of faith in Ofcom’s assessment of broadband coverage based on service speeds and underlying technology, but on these points they’re probably closer to the mark than the CLA.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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