Broadband Rollout: Devon and Somerset

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:55 pm on 2nd December 2020.

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Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon 4:55 pm, 2nd December 2020

I did beat you.

Almost a fifth of residents still do not receive the universal service obligation’s 10 megabits per second. Our average download speed is less than 37 megabits per second, compared with a UK average of 61. The only thing slower than our broadband speed is attempts to connect properties by CDS. I am delighted that things are now progressing, and I recognise the complexities of procurement in this area, but an alarming amount of time seems to have been taken, still to be selecting suppliers.

I note that major players in the sector are not participating in the current procurement process, because we are a whole technology behind in Devon and Somerset. I am determined that North Devon will not continue to languish at the bottom of the broadband league, and have taken it upon myself to connect my own community to fibre broadband through a community fibre partnership, in conjunction with Openreach. Using our Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport vouchers and working directly with the industry seems to be the most likely method of connecting up my rural constituency; but the continuation of the Government’s voucher schemes is key to enabling communities to get connected. I hope that the Minister will be in a position to confirm that today.

Last week’s announcement that only 85% of the country will be connected by 2025 rather fills me with dread, as there seems to be an inevitability about hard-to-reach rural constituencies such as mine continuing to be left behind. Without the 100% target and full £5 billion commitment, will the industry be able to commit the resources and train the army of new engineers needed for even 85% to be reached? Given that CDS is still so busy with the previous technology, I ask that someone else manage the procurement and delivery of high-speed fibre in North Devon, and that that should be rapidly instigated, as the most commercially viable parts of my constituency are now being over-fibred by competing fibre companies, leaving harder-to-reach communities even less likely to see fibre.

When we talk about levelling up North Devon we are not expecting a new railway or motorway. We desperately need broadband to enable our businesses, young people and communities to have access to what other parts of the country take for granted. I spend far too long lobbying the Minister for better broadband, and I shamelessly do the same today. Please speed up everything to do with broadband in North Devon.