MP’s address on the ‘digital divide’

JPCT S14060881x Nick Herbert MP -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-140522-123503001
JPCT S14060881x Nick Herbert MP -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-140522-123503001

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for the break-up of BT’s ‘unsatisfactory monopoly’ on superfast broadband delivery.

The MP said ‘broadband is now essential, not a luxury’, and said the ‘digital divide’ between town and country must be closed.

Mr Herbert was speaking in a Commons debate on rural phone and broadband connectivity last week. He welcomed plans to give 95 per cent of households access to superfast broadband by 2017, but cited a report by The Rural West Sussex Partnership, which said the real coverage achieved might be as low as 85 per cent. The MP said: “We have to look ahead and test whether what is being done will be sufficient to ensure access for those in rural areas who will not benefit from the programme.”

Only half (52 per cent) of his constituency have access to superfast broadband, placing it in the bottom 100 of parliamentary constituencies (564th out of 650).

He said BT’s Openreach infrastructure delivery subsidiary should be split off and potentially broken up to allow more competition.

Mr Herbert also warned of “... a danger that public money is being used to close the gap in areas where it would have provided the service anyway, and the remaining 5 per cent or 10 per cent is not being covered.”

Future subsidies, he added, should be directed to places the market would not otherwise reach, and he pointed out that it is often these areas where people do not have access to mobile phone data coverage, either, and are therefore effectively disconnected.

He announced that he plans to hold a summit, following on from the one with the county council and Culture Secretary in 2012, on how to close the digital divide.

He hops to involve groups such as the South Downs National Park Authority, and he invited the current Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid MP, to attend.