Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Newspaper column 2 March 2016 - Rural broadband connectivity

One of the things that is raised the most with me by residents from across our constituency are the difficulties that many people have in accessing good quality fast and reliable broadband service for their homes and businesses.

When I raise issues such as these on behalf of constituents, the body I have to go to is called Openreach, the division of BT that maintains the UK’s largest phone and broadband network on behalf of competing providers. Sadly, I often find that the answers and solutions I get to these enquiries are not at all helpful in terms of achieving a solution, particularly for our rural areas.

I believe that BT’s relationship with Openreach is unhealthy in terms of achieving innovative and common sense solutions. One way to achieve better solutions and service for all would be to open up the market and encourage competition by moving BT and Openreach apart.

With this in mind, earlier this year, I co-signed a report calling on Ofcom to take radical action over the ‘natural monopoly’ too long enjoyed by BT Openreach.

In 2016 people rightly expect access to high-speed internet connections. Whether at home or work, fast broadband should be a reality in all our communities. Sadly, this is not yet the case. In Mid-Cornwall people are dealing with some really poor connections and gaps in services. In fact St Austell and Newquay falls into the bottom 30% of seats for the availability of superfast connections, and Cornwall itself gets a speed below the 10mb per second Ofcom say everyone should have.
Last week, then, I was pleased to see Ofcom release recommendations that BT change its working relationship with Openreach.

In some of the highlights of their review ‘Making Communications Work for Everyone’, Ofcom concluded that BT must open up their network, so competitors can connect fibre to homes and offices, Openreach must be reformed to better serve UK consumers and businesses and that better quality of service needs to provided for all customers, including automatic compensation.

Openreach needs to take its own decisions on budget, investment and strategy - such as the deployment of new networks and therefore I particularly welcome Ofcom’s decision to overhaul Openreach’s governance and strengthen its independence from BT going forward,

I look forward to Ofcom’s detailed proposals that will be released later this year to implement these changes. This report’s outcome is a good step in the right direction and one that I hope will pave the way for a more competitive marketplace and the increase in customer service that will result. There is still more work to be done and I will continue to watch the situation closely to ensure the people of Mid-Cornwall get the level of service we need.

I will be meeting with concerned businesses in some of our worst affected areas to discuss ways forward whether that be working with Openreach, or pursuing other lines of action. If you have encountered any issues with your home or business then please do get in touch with my office via the details below and I will be more than happy to add your details to my continuing work in this area.

I also hold regular constituency advice surgeries across Mid-Cornwall in which you can bring up issues like this, or anything else where you need to know my opinion with something or believe I can be of assistance in any way. My next surgeries with free appointments across the constituency are on 12 and 19 March, and you are welcome to contact my office to book a slot. Further surgery dates can be found on my website.

My team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and seek to make a real difference to the lives of everyone who needs help and support in any way.  If there is any issue that we can help you with then please contact us on either 01726 829379 or at