Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:07 pm on 10th July 2017.

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Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent 7:07 pm, 10th July 2017

Like several Members here, I have the pleasure of representing a beautiful and very rural constituency. In fact, 42% of my constituency is part of an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is a lovely constituency in which to walk, have picnics and spend time. It is fabulous for farming, but less good for connectivity.

Over the two-and-a-bit years for which I have been the Member of Parliament for Faversham and Mid Kent, I have received letters—and occasionally emails, if people have managed to get online—from constituents in many villages including Headcorn, Kingswood, Doddington, Eastling, Selling and Sheldwich. Those are all lovely villages, but they struggle with connectivity, and residents have had difficulty getting fast broadband.

In several of those villages, it can be difficult even to get a mobile phone signal. A couple of months ago, during the general election campaign, I was in Headcorn, and I thought I might tweet a picture from Headcorn station. Not only did I not have 4G on my mobile phone, but I did not have any mobile phone signal at all. I could not even make an old-fashioned mobile telephone call or send a text message. There are parts of my constituency, such as that patch of Headcorn, where unless people happen to be with the one operator serving it a little, it is impossible even to make a mobile phone call.

My constituency wants to have better broadband and better mobile phone connections, and that is why I welcome the commitment this Government have been and are making to connectivity across this country. As I mentioned in an intervention, thanks to the Government’s programme of rolling out high-speed broadband, 8,432 properties have now got a high-speed broadband connection that would not have had one without the programme. By September 2018, I am expecting about 2,000 more properties to be on high-speed broadband thanks to the programme. That amounts to 25% of the properties in my constituency being connected thanks to this Government’s work and commitment to high-speed broadband, and it will get Faversham and Mid Kent up to about 90% of properties being on high-speed broadband.

We are still some way off the 100% level that I would like, so I very much welcome the universal service obligation that is coming into force. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend Matt Warman in campaigning very hard to put that into law. I also welcome the commitment made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Minister from the Dispatch Box that the financial cap will be high enough to make sure that 100% of properties in constituencies such as mine receive access to broadband of at least 10 megabits per second. That is not the high speed that we hope will be delivered by the Bill, but for those who have no or incredibly slow broadband at the moment, 10 megabits per second will make a great difference.

All of us who represent rural constituencies know the difference between the haves and the have-nots on broadband, but having high-speed broadband is genuinely life changing. It enables us to do things that we now consider everyday functions of life, and whether it is sending emails, booking tickets or flights online, choosing hotels or B&Bs, comparing offers on travel insurance or car insurance, or shopping for groceries, there is so much that those of us with high-speed broadband take for granted. However, in my constituency, some people still do not even have such access.