Urgent action over superfast broadband for rural areas is demanded by MPs



First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Parliamentary Correspondent

URGENT action is needed to deliver superfast broadband to rural parts of the region, a highly-critical report by MPs demands today (Tuesday, April 1).

The alarm is raised over a lack of detailed information about areas that will miss out on speeds of at least 24mbps – making it impossible to “plug the gaps”.

At least 90 per cent of premises will receive superfast broadband under Government plans, by the end of this year in North Yorkshire and by 2016 in County Durham and Tees Valley.

But maps published by ‘Superfast North Yorkshire’ show large areas – around Northallerton and Richmond, for example - that could be left in the slow lane.

Last autumn, Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh protested that “about 90 per cent of my constituency is not going to get fast-speed broadband for the foreseeable future”.

And Digital Durham is still trying to secure cash to bring Upper Teesdale, Weardale and Forest-in-Teesdale and Whorlton, near Barnard Castle, up to speed.

Now the powerful Commons public accounts committee (PAC) has criticised the Government for failing to ensure residents and businesses are given accurate information.

Its report, published today, blames confusion about the data local councils are allowed to release from BT, the monopoly supplier of the main broadband contracts.

And it urges the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) to end that uncertainty – by requiring openness “down to full (seven-digit) postcode level”.

That would allow rival broadband firms to bid for Government cash to supply the hardest-to-reach premises, in the North-East and North Yorkshire and elsewhere.

Margaret Hodge, the PAC’s Labour chairwoman, said: “Communities can still not access the detailed data they need to understand whether they will be covered by BT’s scheme in their area.

“Other broadband providers might be squeezed out of the rural market by BT’s actions.”

The committee’s report also criticised a lack of “meaningful competition”, with BT snapping up all 44 of the sub-regional contracts for the £530m scheme.

That had led to BT “exploiting its monopoly position to the detriment of the taxpayer, local authorities and those seeking to access high speed broadband in rural areas”.

Ministers have vowed a new £10m scheme will exploit new technologies to deliver superfast speeds to “absolutely everybody”, but no date has been set.

Ms Hodge said ministers and officials would be hauled back before her committee if they failed to ensure publication of broadband data.

But communications minister Ed Vaizey said: “Britain has the best superfast broadband of all five leading European economies. The rollout is ahead of schedule.

“We continue to promote competition and have insisted on enhanced transparency from both local authorities and suppliers."

Comments (1)

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12:25pm Tue 1 Apr 14

diga says...

Urgent action is needed to get superfast broadband to our area in Darlington!! I'm pig sick of the maximum 1mb speed we currently get.....
Urgent action is needed to get superfast broadband to our area in Darlington!! I'm pig sick of the maximum 1mb speed we currently get..... diga
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