Support urged for super fast broadband scheme in upper Teesdale despite criticism over consultation process (From The Northern Echo)
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Support urged for super fast broadband scheme in upper Teesdale despite criticism over consultation process
A DURHAM County Council consultation process aimed at galvanising support for super fast broadband in rural Teesdale has come under fire – from one of the authority's own members.
The council is trying to secure £1.53m through the Community Broadband Fund to improve online connectivity in the upper dale and part of rural Weardale.
As part of its bid for cash, the authority must prove that residents, community groups and businesses would use the service if it was provided and must demonstrate at least 50per cent support for the scheme.
However, drop-in information sessions were organised at short notice last month in Lunedale, Mickleton and Middleton-in-Teesdale and criticism has been levelled at a questionnaire rural residents have been asked to complete.
Councillor Richard Bell, who represents Barnard Castle West on Durham County Council, said: “They had three sessions in one day, on a work day, at a moment's notice – is this a consultation they want to fail?
“They are doing everything wrong. The consultation should have explained what the next generation of broadband is and how it works. A lot of people my age and older do not understand.
“It should have been done over six months, involving all the parish councils and explaining exactly what you get.
“Pitching up during the working week at two-to-three days notice is wrong.”
Coun Bell said without a clear explanation of the benefits high speed broadband would bring to the upper dale, questions on the survey – such as how much people would be prepared to pay for the service – were made meaningless.
“People might be prepared to pay if they could see what the would get for their money.”
Despite his concerns at the way the process has been handled, Coun Bell is, nevertheless, urging people to have their say for fear the upper dale may miss its chance for a better broadband service.
“It is very important for people to respond and show evidence of demand for super fast broadband.”
Phil Jackman, head of ICT with Durham County Council, said: “We are sorry and disappointed if members of the public feel ill informed about the project.
“More information is available on our Facebook site and website, or if people feel they need to find out more, prior to filling in the consultation, then one of the team will happily have a chat over the telephone.”
The deadline for questionnaires to be completed and returned in March 22. It can be completed online at: www.surveymonkey.com/s/BB_survey Anyone requiring more information prior to completing the survey can call the Digital Durham team on 03000-261160.
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