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New parliamentary group aims to speed up 'very slow' broadband rollout

Monday, June 29th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

A new cross-party parliamentary group is aiming to speed up the government’s “very slow rollout” of superfast broadband.

The Broadband and Mobile Telecoms Committee has been set up by a group of MPs, mostly from the south west of England.

Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con – Bridgwater and West Somerset) has been appointed as the group’s chairman.

The MP told Cable.co.uk: “The government is not forcing BT to roll out superfast broadband quickly enough.

“Things came to a head during the election because MPs were getting beaten around the head over poor broadband – not just in rural areas but in urban areas, too.”

When MPs met in Westminster following the election, they found that a lack of broadband had become a major issue all around the UK, said Mr Liddell-Grainger.

“We realised we were going to have to set a group up to push the government and BT to change.

“The British electorate is very sophisticated and will put issues to us on the doorstep – they will make it clear to us.

“We were obviously aware there was a problem [before the election] but campaigning showed us it is a very important part of constituency feedback right across the UK.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger said the aim of the new group is to “get rural and urban broadband rolled out to the whole country at a quick pace.

“We will hopefully be giving a voice to a huge part of Britain [that are] not getting what they signed up for.

'Double-speak'

“The government has given an enormous amount of money to BT and we are not getting value for money.

“They are using corporate double-speak to judge what has been a very slow rollout.”

The group is expected to meet for the first time in a few weeks’ time, once it has been officially registered.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said it will look into using forms of mobile technology to get fast broadband to the UK’s most rural areas.

“Exmoor will more than likely be one – I’ve got an example of [a remote area] right on my doorstep,” he added.

The government’s innovation fund was set up to encourage alternative ways of delivering superfast broadband to the final 5% of the UK not covered by the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme or commercial rollouts.

The £10m fund has already awarded funding to eight groups, including a community broadband project in Northumberland.

Earlier this year, Cable.co.uk reported that Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) – the organisation rolling out superfast broadband in Mr Liddell-Grainger’s constituency – had connected more than 100,000 premises.

'Fully on-schedule'

Reaching the milestone kept the programme “on track to reach our 90% superfast goal by the end of 2016” according to Somerset councillor David Hall.

But the area’s MPs have been critical of the rollout, with Neil Parish (Con – Tiverton and Honiton) saying only 22% of properties in his constituency could access superfast speeds and Tessa Munt, the former Lib Dem MP for Wells, saying BT was not performing adequately.

A BT spokesperson described Mr Liddell-Grainger's claims as "misleading and wildly inaccurate".

"There is no delay in the roll-out of superfast fibre broadband across Devon and Somerset. The CDS programme, in which BT is investing £41million, is fully on schedule to meet its targets and BT has not shown any reluctance to make contributions on time.

“The partnership is a major success story, having already made fibre broadband available to more than 142,000 households and businesses across the two counties.

"We are committed to rolling out high-speed fibre broadband as widely and quickly as possible and this is demonstrated by the considerable resources being employed on the project, including about 200 engineers and support staff.

“645 fibre broadband cabinets are already providing services for customers as a result of the CDS programme and final installation work is being undertaken on a further 377.

“When BT’s own commercial programme is also included, it means that more than 286,000 premises in Somerset and more than 376,000 in Devon now have access to fibre broadband and the numbers are continuing to grow rapidly.”

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