Rural Broadband: Am I missing something?

Because of an enquiry from a constituent, I have gone back, this morning, to coverage maps for the Superfast Berkshire project, which detail which areas will receive fibre optic services by the end of the project in 2016.

They are truly extraordinary – and not in a good way. I showed them to our MP on the DCMS Select Committee (John Leech) and even he was astonished to see the appalling provision that’s been negotiated on behalf of West Berks, compared to the coverage for the East.

And remember, the Lead Authority for the Superfast Berkshire project was the loveable Tory team on West Berkshire Council. Richard Benyon was along side them, sticking up for the needs of his rural residents.

Superfast Berkshire - Fibre Coverage by Phase (Superfast Berkshire (http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34509&p=0))

Superfast Berkshire – Fibre Coverage by Phase
(http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34509&p=0)

EXTRAORDINARY EXAMPLE: If you look at the map close-up, below, you’ll see, under the green and the red shading, that Yattendon is well covered. Good for Yattendon, no problem with that at all, in itself. But while Yattendon village is covered twice and the greenfields around are promised superfast coverage by December of this year, Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys are not expected to receive fibre optic superfast coverage by the end of 2014, the end of 2015 or the end of 2016. Perhaps not even, at all.

Large numbers of people live and work in Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys. Lots of children need to do homework online. What did they ever do to offend West Berkshire Council? What were their Councillors – those people elected to represent their interests – doing while this so-called negotiation was going on?

Looking at the project completion map (the purple one, below), even once the additional funding of the Rural Communities Broadband fund, so proudly trumpeted and the ‘planned’ infill satellite and wifi coverage, only 25-50% of households in Hermitage will receive coverage >2Mb.

Superfast Coverage at Project Completion (Superfast Coverage at Project Completion (http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34510&p=0))

Superfast Coverage at Project Completion
(http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34510&p=0)

I could go on further about East Ilsley, East Garston and Compton, with a population of ~2,000, where 0-25% superfast coverage is the best that is promised by the end of the project. Scandalous.

Looking at these maps, one would assume that Reading was leading the Superfast Berkshire negotiations, that Windsor and Maidenhead must have held the floor, that Slough drove proceedings, but no – no, West Berkshire Council was the lead authority on the Superfast Berkshire Project. Richard Benyon proclaimed more than once, how wonderfully the negotiations were going.

If this is the best result our MP can get from good negotiations, lord preserve us from his bad ones. There are times, in life and in politics, when being nice is simply not enough.

For more information about the Superfast Broadband project, see their own site: http://www.superfastberkshire.org.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=34509&p=0

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