Friday, May 27, 2011

Broadband access in Suffolk: frankly, I should be grateful that you can read this at all

For those of you who live in towns and cities, or otherwise have access to fibre optic cables and all the paraphenalia of modern telecommunications, spare a thought for us country dwellers.

I live about seven miles from my local BT exchange, as the ancient telephone wires run. So remote are we, that some homes still share cables. As a result, broadband speeds are astonishingly poor, a fact which has serious repercussions for the rural economy. For whilst the incidence of heavy industry is minimal, the potential for remotely supplied intellectual and professional services is vast. After all, why run a web design business in an urban location when you could do it from a purpose built office surrounded by pretty scenery, where property prices are lower and stress levels lower still?

This potential is crushed by the failure to provide decent availability of broadband services, and today's announcement that the Suffolk bid for £20 million from the Government's Broadband Delivery UK fund has been rejected comes as a bitter blow - even more so given that Norfolk's bid was successful. That £20 million would have been the leverage for a total of £42 million to used to bring superfast broadband to the county, and although there will be further opportunities to bid in the future, valuable time has been lost.

The task of apportioning the blame has already begun and most interestingly, the new, shiny and remarkably personable Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, Dr Dan Poulter, has led the charge, attacking his own colleagues on the County Council and, in particular, Jeremy Pembroke, for the inadequacy of their involvement in, and support for, the bid. I don't know enough to comment on whether that's fair or not, but it does seem like an extraordinary thing to do without good grounds.

And whatever has happened in the past, the immediate future for superfast broadband in Suffolk is bleak. At a time when Government strategy relies on job creation in the private sector to compensate for job losses in the public sector, any barriers placed in the way by poor infrastructure should be dealt with briskly...

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