Broadband or Broadbad? MP holds lively forum to find solutions

Business owners, parish councillors and local householders got the chance on Friday to hear about potential solutions to broadband problems and express their frustrations to several telecommunication company representatives regarding difficulties they have encountered in getting superfast broadband and mobile phone coverage in the constituency. The Broadband and Business Forum, held at the Galtres Centre in Easingwold, was organized by my team and I.

The need for a faster and more reliable service is vital for trade. With more people working from home or setting up small business in the region the speed and consistency of communication links is of utmost importance. However, many people are still encountering problems despite the commitment to connect even the most rural locations. During the meeting on Friday the main concern was the urgent need for suitable infrastructure to be delivered to get villages and remote homes connected.

Various national and local companies spoke about their work in communication including BT, Vodafone, EE , Moorsweb, Clannet, Open Signal and Boundless. They gave presentations to an audience of about 70 people and answered questions about individual problems.

It became clear that the time being taken to get some businesses superfast broadband was having a significant impact with even some, including a business employing 65 people, thinking about relocating from the constituency if things were not resolved. I am well aware of the problems and have worked and will continue to work to get better technology in place and find solutions to this extremely important issue.

The future of the constituency is undeniably linked to good communication networks, without this business cannot thrive. We use the internet not just for our work but also our shopping and our children’s education. I heard how one family were driving miles from home on an evening just to take their children to another family member’s house so they could do their homework; that is just not acceptable in this day. We need to get these problems sorted, we want to encourage more businesses to this area not put them off because of poor telecommunications. I will continue to press for this to be resolved, this meeting is just one of several initiatives I am involved with and will continue to work hard for solutions locally and nationally.

I recently met with Digital Minister, Ed Vaizey MP and have also corresponded at length with Superfast North Yorkshire. I can confirm that the Government is firmly committed to ensuring that everyone in the UK has access to fast broadband through something called a Universal Service Obligation (USO). As a result of a £1.7bn investment through the Superfast Broadband programme, nine out of ten UK homes and businesses can already get superfast speeds. By December 2017 that should rise to 95% of the UK.

In North Yorkshire the availability of Superfast Broadband, i.e. 25Mbps and above, is already available to over 85% of premises, rising to 91% by the end of the current deployment in June 2017. The project is procuring a supplier to deliver phase 3 of the superfast broadband roll out. At this stage SFNY cannot state how many premises Phase 3 will deliver but they project it to be in the region of 4%, taking superfast coverage to around 95% of North Yorkshire, with further 1%-2% of premises receiving between 15 and 25Mbps speeds. What we need, however, is clarity on where and when communities will be enabled so that we can make plans for those left out and for those who cannot wait until 2019. We also need to extend backbone fibre as far as possible into the hard-to-reach areas to introduce more competition in the market. This would be a relatively cheap option for supporting and reducing the costs and any subsidy for many rural broadband operations.

The remaining percentage who cannot realistically expect to get fibre-based broadband will probably be around 3% of all properties, for whom there is always the satellite alternative available to obtain superfast broadband. Every property which does not already receive 2Mbps can apply for the satellite voucher scheme. This scheme, provided by BDUK and funded by North Yorkshire County Council, provides up to £410 to cover the installation cost of a satellite broadband service with a number of suppliers. I have asked the minister to widen the voucher scheme to include other technologies such as point-to-point wireless, and to allow them to be pooled to help towards the funding of community-based schemes.

I will continue to press for improved access and for funding to deliver the roll out of Ultrafast broadband for rural areas. The future proofed ‘fibre to premise’ (FTTP) roll out is pitifully behind other countries (2% in the UK compared to 60% in Spain). I have spoken in the House on the matter and was one of those who pushed for a break up of BT and Openreach to accelerate this important next phase. Ofcom's preferred solution at this time, however, is to require Openreach to open up access to its ducts and poles to encourage competition from third party operators. I will follow developments closely to see how effective this is in practice and will not hesitate to call for more action if we do not see the improvements that are clearly needed. I have secured the support of many colleagues in the house in my application for a main chamber debate on the USO for Rural Areas to get more detail on the Government plans and investment for the hardest to reach areas.

I would encourage anyone who has a problem to contact me at kevin.hollinrake.mp@parliament.uk as we do have immediate solutions for some homes, businesses and communities”.