Superfast broadband is now ‘essential infrastructure’ for rural businesses according to Arundel and South Downs’ MP.
Speaking to more than 60 members of the Federation of Small Business (FSB) at a dinner at Arundel Castle last Friday, Nick Herbert warned of a growing ‘digital divide’ where cities, towns and large villages were getting superfast broadband but rural areas were losing out.
He said it was no longer a luxury but was now ‘an absolute necessity’ for businesses.
Already there was talk of extending ultrafast broadband across the country, with speeds of 100Mbps available, but some rural areas in West Sussex could barely get broadband at all.
Mr Herbert said that small businesses were the engine of economic and employment growth, and there was a widely shared aim to encourage rural enterprises, but without superfast broadband this growth would be severely hampered.
He claimed that his broadband summit in 2011 had led to West Sussex County Council’s ‘Better Connected’ programme which, with local and Government funding, aims to deliver broadband access to more than 90 per cent of premises in the county by spring next year.
In May West Sussex County Council announced that the project had passed the halfway point, with more than 36,000 homes and businesses upgraded.
The Government is committed to support the delivery of superfast broadband to 95 per cent of all UK households by the end of 2017. Ministers reiterated their commitment in August with the publication of a ten-point plan for boosting productivity in rural areas.
But Mr Herbert pointed out that the five or ten per cent of households that would not have access to superfast broadband under these plans would inevitably be in rural areas.
The MP said that new technical and funding solutions would be needed to close this digital divide, and expressed the view that BT should be separated from its broadband delivery arm, Openreach, to inject competition into the sector, encourage innovation and boost broadband roll-out.
Mr Herbert is also teaming up with the South Downs National Park Authority to convene a digital access summit on Friday November 20 to discuss how to close the digital divide and secure superfast broadband access in rural areas.
He also intends to speak in a scheduled debate on the issue in the House of Commons on Monday October 12.
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