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Controversial superfast project hits milestone as MPs prepare for broadband debate

Monday, October 12th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The superfast broadband rollout in Devon and Somerset is ahead of schedule in its plans to connect 90% of households in the counties, programme bosses have said.

Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) said it has achieved a major milestone in its rollout of high-speed fibre broadband, with more than 185,000 households and businesses able to access superfast broadband.

The announcement comes as MPs prepare to debate the UK's superfast broadband rollout in the House of Commons.

Taking commercial broadband rollouts into account, a total of more than 200,000 premises in Devon and Somerset can access fibre.

The milestone means the partnership is ahead of schedule in its plans to make fibre available to 90% of homes and businesses within the next 16 months, with superfast broadband becoming available to more than 8,000 extra premises each month.

Programme bosses said in the past three months the technology has been rolled out for the first time to many new exchange areas in Devon and Somerset, including some of the most challenging locations.

Among the most recent exchanges to go live are Cheriton Fitzpaine, Copplestone, Harbertonford, Sutton Cross, Buckland St. Mary, Charlton Mackrell, Edingworth, Mells and Templecombe.

James Heappey, MP for Wells, said: “Having campaigned to improve access to broadband in rural areas and bridge the digital divide, I am absolutely delighted for the Connecting Devon and Somerset programme to have reached more than 200,000 homes and businesses – and that figure is set to grow even further by the end of 2016.

“Superfast connectivity is absolutely essential to residents and businesses alike and I will continue to work with BT and the Connecting Devon and Somerset project team to get our area the connections we so desperately need.”

Peter Heaton-Jones, MP for North Devon, added: “The arrival of superfast broadband will be a game-changer for the large number of rural communities we have here in North Devon.

'Not-spot summit'

“The issue of broadband access touches virtually all aspects of rural life. Slower broadband affects the ability of rural economies to grow and be resilient and impacts on the services and quality of life rural people have access to.

“As the economy recovers it is vital that resources, particularly technology, are distributed more fairly amongst enterprise in the UK so that businesses in more rural areas are able to expand their operations.”

The announcement comes in the wake of recent criticism of the CDS project, after organisers failed to reach a deal with BT for the next phase of the rollout.

Campaigners claimed that the move would mean that the counties will be stuck with “dial up” speeds, while businesses warned that a delay in the arrival of superfast broadband to the counties could be “fatal”.

But despite criticisms, CDS has insisted that the project is making “excellent progress” and still aims to make sure everyone in the area has superfast broadband access by 2020.

The UK’s superfast broadband rollout will be debated by MPs in the House of Commons this afternoon.

The debate has been called by Matt Warman, MP for Boston and Skegness, and will be the first dedicated session on fixed and mobile broadband rollout in parliament since the general election.

It will also call on the government to convene a ‘not-spot summit’, which would look at both rural and urban areas, and ways to address the variations in coverage.

Mr Warman said: “This is an issue which affects constituencies across many different parts of the UK, and I look forward to hearing contributions from my colleagues on their local experiences.

“I also hope that the minister will agree to host a summit to consider the issue, so that we can work to ensure that the whole of the UK has effective broadband and mobile coverage.”

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