Broadband Rollout: Devon and Somerset

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:47 pm on 2nd December 2020.

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Photo of Simon Jupp Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon 4:47 pm, 2nd December 2020

I thank my near neighbour, my hon. Friend Neil Parish, for securing the debate. I hope he will not mind me highlighting his personal interest in the issue: on weekly calls among Devon MPs, we often miss his contributions because his internet falls down. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the challenges we face as a region and highlight the need to improve connections across our two counties.

We must deliver superfast broadband across East Devon, not least because many more people are working from home and—let us face it—some will not return to the office. For far too long, East Devon has suffered from delayed contracts and patchy upgrades. It is not acceptable for anyone in Sidmouth, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Topsham, Ottery St Mary, Cranbrook, St Loyes, Whimple, Clyst St Mary or any village in East Devon to be unable to make a video call or watch a TV programme using a decent internet connection in 2020. Feniton and Whimple, for instance, have only 63% superfast availability with download speeds of at least 30 megabits per second as defined by Ofcom. That compares with 97% for Exmouth.

Given the failures of Gigaclear, covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, to roll out superfast broadband under the Connecting Devon and Somerset programme, Jurassic Fibre is plugging some of the gap successfully for a large part of East Devon, stretching from Clyst St George to Exmouth. I commend Jurassic Fibre for cracking on and connecting more of East Devon, but in the village of Farringdon, internet download speeds have been less than 5 megabits per second. One of the village’s first upgrades earlier this year was LittlePod, who manufacture and export around the world a special kind of vanilla paste, as the International Trade Secretary saw at first hand this time last year. It now has a 500 megabits per second business connection—and I am extremely envious.

The reason I talk about that private sector involvement —ostensibly just one commercial provider in a portion of Devon and Somerset—is because it has made a real difference. Connecting Devon and Somerset, working with Devon County Council, will have to plug the gaps in commercially funded networks. Clearly, as has been highlighted in the debate, there is more to do on all fronts.

Connecting Devon and Somerset is working to solve the issues and listening to concerns raised by MPs on behalf of constituents. It will need to be held to account and be transparent on public reporting processes, so that it can clearly demonstrate the progress it makes. It must crack on and get our counties connected.

The last Budget contained a commitment to spend £5 billion on connecting hard-to-reach premises. I know the Minister is committed to exploring every opportunity to get fibre broadband rolled out across East Devon and our county. We must work together to deliver for Devon and ensure that no community is left behind.