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Pressure group to demand answers on Devon and Somerset superfast broadband

Monday, August 10th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Campaigners in Devon and Somerset have set up a lobby group to demand answers over the future of superfast broadband in the counties.

The creation of Broadband for Rural Devon & Somerset (B4RDS) was announced at the end of a public meeting on broadband in Upottery, East Devon, on Wednesday.

Upottery parish councillor Graham Long, who chaired the meeting, said the new group will have members from across the two counties and will “monitor, challenge and question” the superfast rollout in rural parts of the counties.

Mr Long has been an outspoken critic of the rollout in the area, saying residents are being “stitched up” by the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme.

He also blamed the CDS board for the failure to agree a deal with BT for the next phase of the rollout in the area.

In June, Devon and Somerset county councils announced that CDS had been unable to secure a “value for money deal” and BT would not be awarded a £35m contract for the next phase of the planned superfast broadband rollout.

They said it had emerged that BT could not meet the government's target of achieving 95% superfast coverage by the end of 2017 and so the tender would be reissued as an “open procurement” exercise.

Campaigners have now set up a formal group to demand answers about the rollout.

Mr Long said Wednesday’s public meeting, attended by representatives from CDS and Devon County Council, as well as by local MP Neil Parish (Con – Tiverton & Honiton), included a summary of the current situation.

'We do not trust you'

He said the meeting was also attended by broadband company Broadway Partners, which has suggested a “co-partnership” superfast delivery model, using external finance alongside BDUK matched funding, which it is already using in West Oxfordshire.

Mr Long told Cable.co.uk: “At the end of the meeting I passed round a piece of paper and asked for anybody who was prepared to get actively involved in the group – 16 people came forward.

“We’ve got people from across the two counties now represented and we will continue to put on more pressure."

He said attending county council cabinet and full council meetings and asking questions seemed to have "some effect".

“But from here on in it won’t be Graham Long standing up and saying things, it will be B4RDS,” he added.

"What we are desperately trying to do is raise the profile of this."

Mr Long said residents were being urged to “trust” the people in charge of the programme.

“This is the third time we’ve been asked to do this and each time it’s not got better, it’s got worse.

“We now have at least a two-year delay from where this all started for Phase 2.

“Phase 1 is water under the bridge, it’s done. What we are looking to do is to influence Phase 2.

“I just don’t understand how they could sit there and say, ‘trust us again’. The answer is ‘we do not trust you’.”

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