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Rural communities can’t be left behind by broadband rollout – MP

Tuesday, June 2nd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The government should “push on” with the final phase of the superfast broadband rollout as soon as possible, a new Somerset MP has said.

James Heappey (Con – Wells) told fellow MPs that the final 5% of the rollout is “disproportionately concentrated” in constituencies like his, and urged the government not to leave people behind.

Mr Heappey made his comments in his first speech in the House of Commons since he won his Wells seat from Liberal Democrat Tessa Munt.

The newly-elected MP described his constituency as one “that contributes greatly to Britain’s standing in the world”.

He said: “The Prime Minister has called Her Majesty’s speech a one-nation programme that will benefit all in our country.

“I am delighted about that, because for too long rural areas have not received the same investment as our large towns and cities.

“Our market towns and villages struggle with poor road connections, very limited access to the rail network, weak phone signals, and achingly slow broadband.”

But he said to unlock “the incredible potential for economic growth in rural communities”, there must be improvements to infrastructure.

'Life is speeding up'

He said the investment by the government in broadband had already brought “formidable results”, telling MPs: “Village by village, fibre-optic connections are being made and life is speeding up.

“However, the final 5% of the superfast broadband rollout is disproportionately concentrated in constituencies like mine, and so I urge the government to push on with that final phase as soon as possible.

“Within that final few percent will be some of Britain’s most isolated communities; we simply cannot leave them behind.”

The government is aiming to bring superfast broadband, defined as speeds of 24Mbps and above, to 90% of the UK by 2016, extending coverage to 95% by the end of the following year.

Earlier this year, former Wells MP Tessa Munt urged digital minister Ed Vaizey to look at the opportunity for different broadband contracts based on the actual speeds people receive.

During the parliamentary debate on the progress of the taxpayer-funded rural broadband rollout, Mr Vaizey said he would look at the possibility of different levels of contracts for people who get slower speeds.

The debate in March was called by Devon MP Neil Parish (Con – Tiverton and Honiton) to address national concerns of broadband availability and the pace of the rollout.

“In some areas BT is doing a good job and in other areas it could do better,” he told fellow MPs, “delivering it to wherever people are is essential”.

“Rural areas are disproportionally affected – there are 12,000 premises that have no digital footprint whatsoever,” he added.

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