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Suffolk MP calls for answers in commons rural broadband debate

Tuesday, July 14th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

A Suffolk MP has called for more scrutiny of BT's rollout of superfast broadband.

Dr Dan Poulter (Con – Central Suffolk & North Ipswich) also called for the government to bring forward plans to get broadband to the ‘final 5%’ not currently included in the superfast rollout.

In a series of questions posed to digital minister Ed Vaizey in the Commons last night, the MP said broadband was the “single most important issue facing rural Suffolk and many rural businesses and homes”.

Dr Poulter, who has campaigned for improved broadband for his constituency, praised the area’s superfast broadband project but said the area’s Better Broadband for Suffolk programme had raised concerns with him about BT’s behaviour.

Dr Poulter called for Mr Vaizey to outline what the government could do better to hold BT to account through the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, and said the government should bring forward plans for tackling the final 5% to avoid creating a ‘digital divide’ between them and the 95% who will have superfast broadband by 2017.

He asked what measures were available to consumers suffering from “lower than advertised broadband speeds” and highlighted slowing speeds at peak times as an issue as well.

Dr Poulter said it was “imperative” that a basic speed of 2Mbps is available to everyone “as soon as possible”, and improved broadband services should be linked with better mobile technology and reception.

He asked Mr Vaizey to outline "what the Government can do better to hold BT to account through Broadband Delivery UK", adding: "In conclusion, there are questions for the minister on the conduct of BT, on the final 5% and ensuring that proposals are made in a timely manner, and on joining up mobile phone coverage to ensure that there is a holistic approach that benefits both Suffolk residents and the taxpayer."

In response, digital minister Ed Vaizey told MPs that while he was “unstinting” in his praise for the BT’s national rollout of superfast broadband, he had “no doubt” that it had some problems with customer service.

'Leave no one behind'

He said he plans to update MPs on the progress of broadband in their constituencies to make it clear where broadband will be delivered, and it is important to warn those “at the tail end of the programme that they might have to wait some time”.

Addressing the issues of slow speeds, he referred to new measures from Ofcom that allow consumers to leave their contract if they get consistently low speeds, and highlighted a deal with mobile operators to provide geographic coverage as one way the government is working with them to improve mobile broadband coverage.

The minister said he would announce plans about the final 5% by the end of the year, adding: “It is certainly our intention to leave no one behind."

Speaking after the debate, Dr Poulter said: “Improving broadband in Suffolk has always been a top priority for me and I will continue to push the government to give us the support we need to ensure that every home, farm, business, school and shop in Suffolk receives faster broadband.”

He said BT should be accelerating the rollout of faster broadband, “not acting as a handbrake” and he hoped the company had listened to the issues he had raised.

A BT spokesperson said: “BT is committed to making superfast fibre broadband as widely available across Suffolk as quickly as possible.

“The Better Broadband for Suffolk partnership, in which BT is a major multi million pound investor, is very much on schedule and, by the end of 2018, it’s expected that more than 95% of Suffolk properties will have access to fibre broadband.

“It’s a huge task with around 100 engineers and support staff involved, and has already connected 367 green roadside fibre broadband cabinets and laid more than 1,700 kilometres of fibre cable.

“Across the county, more than 290,000 homes and businesses already have access to fibre broadband as a result of BT’s commercial fibre broadband programme and Better Broadband for Suffolk – and the number is continuing to grow rapidly.”

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