Before making my remarks, I must declare an interest. My husband is director of policy at the broadband provider Sky.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Matt Warman on securing the debate so soon after becoming a Member. Broadband is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity. For my local small businesses, for my farming community and for local families at home, access to the internet and all that it has to offer is a core requirement of day-to-day life. However, in many places—particularly in rural areas, such as my constituency of Wealden—people have to contend with a limited choice of service providers, slow speeds, regular service blackouts and general unreliability. My Wealden constituents should not have to put up with that in 2015.
I have received a number of complaints from constituents about their broadband services, and they demonstrate how lives can be blighted by broadband difficulties. I will share just two examples. A local mum who runs her own business contacted me about a service blackout that left her without an internet connection for 19 days. Can you imagine, Mr Pritchard, trying to run a business without the internet for 19 days?
However, the problem will not be solved by a roll-out of superfast broadband in the short term, because the problem is with the access network—something that is taken for granted by those pining for an upgrade to the superfast network, but that some of my constituents can only dream of. Any superfast roll-out cannot be at the expense of investment in the access network.
Another constituent, whose house is connected to the Ripe exchange, which is not currently enabled for fibre service, is in the dark over any possible upgrade. BT’s website shows that his area is in line for one within six months, but that notice has been on the website for 12 months already. My constituent has not been given a provisional timetable by BT, BDUK or the local council detailing when the negotiations will be brought to a conclusion, never mind when any upgrade may finally happen. BT and BDUK must become much more transparent.