Broadband Provision isn't broad enough in Suffolk

Wednesday, 23 November, 2011


Why do we need broadband? If you aren’t a technical whizz on Facebook and Twitter, is the internet important?


I am the first to admit that I am not a technical geek. But even an old fashioned soul, such as myself, understands that the internet is the most important development in communication and trade and is an integral part of the way we work. Almost 60% of people in the UK now use the internet every single day.


Trade is moving further and further online – by 2015 it is predicted that online trade will worth over £40 billion.


Broadband is vital to the future of the economy – which is why I hosted a Suffolk wide conference at The Apex in my constituency the other day to disuss the plans to improve broadband across Suffolk.


As everyone knows, I champion Suffolk industry – it is unique and diverse.  Our market towns thrive drawing in  locals and visitors alike. But the way people conduct business is changing and out infrastructure has got to change too. Evolve or die. And I will not stand by and watch Suffolk stagnate.


£530 million has been invested into Better Broadband nationally by the Government, with almost £12 million invested in Suffolk. On top of this, Suffolk County Council have pledged to match this and the broadband provider, once selected, matching these investments.


This means that 85% of premises in Suffolk will have access to ‘super fast’ broadband - 20 mbps (mega bytes per second) or greater using fibre optic cables. This means you will be able to download a full feature length film to your computer in just 8 minutes, or a song in just 2 seconds. The remaining 15% of Suffolk will have access to broadband using fixed wireless broadband. All by March 2015.


The provider of this broadband will be decided in September 2012, after a rigorous selection process. Suffolk deserves the best and I intend to ensure this happens.


It is vital that we ensure that Suffolk is a priority to the Government – rural counties with slow internet have been identified and we must ensure that Suffolk remains a key focus.


While larger in terms of the number of properties that need internet access, our neighbour, Norfolk, already has better broadband speeds. 53,686 properties in Suffolk only have access to very slow broadband of 2mbps or less compared to 44,839 in Norfolk. This is unacceptable. I am confident that these plans will bring us in line with surrounding counties – anything less would be a failure on the part of the Government and would damage Suffolk’s future economic development.


So who will profit from better broadband?


A lot has been made of the current economic climate on entrepreneurs, small and medium sized business owners, and those with flexible working patterns, like working mothers.


Reliable and fast broadband means that many businesses can streamline their overheads and expand their horizons.  A shopfront lets foot traffic see your wares, but cost money. Lots of money when you look at business rates, taxes, utility bills and so on. But online your website allows you to show off your wares to the world.


I am sure we have all been in the situation where we try to access a website or download some important file and it has all gone wrong. Technology is not perfect, and sometimes it feels very difficult to get work done when your computer is working a snail’s pace. Or not at all.  Working from home can be a blessing, but it can frequently be a struggle. Better broadband means that working at home will become a viable and productive option, even in the most rural of areas. It will help those who need more flexible working patters, like single parents, to work effectively while managing their other commitments.


But we should not over look the ‘human’ aspect of the internet. The fastest growing demographic using the internet is not the young but ‘silver surfers’ – those over 50 make up nearly a quarter of internet users in the UK.


The internet is the greatest jump in communication since Alexander Graham Bell picked up the telephone for the first time. We can chat with our friends in China, play chess with someone in Peurto Rico, and watch debates in Westminster  - all at the click of a button.


I can attest that in my 15 years as a Member of Parliament the way people communicate with me has changed from the daily post and a few telephone calls to a deluge of emails at all hours of the day and night. My constituents are closer than ever and it is wonderful to see that, despite concerns that the public are ‘going off’ politics, I have never had more communication with the people who elected me.


At the Better Broadband Conference in Bury St Edmunds, it was clear that all the MPs, Councillors, Council officials, and experts all had one aim – to ensure that Suffolk gets the best broadband it can. It also gave the public the chance to ask questions about how this scheme will affect them.


What is clear is that these improvements must take place with as little disruption to the current service as possible and this will be a key consideration in the process to select an advisor.


Broadband is crucial to ensure that Suffolk stays connected with the world – and I intend to ensure that .