For most businesses - and for many residential users too - broadband speeds and poor mobile signals are a constant frustration. Whilst competitors elsewhere in the country can upload documents, live stream or operate through large online databases, we spend hours each week staring at a screen telling us to wait or that service has dipped out altogether. In a global economy where every second counts, Somerset is being held back.
James is campaigning to accelerate the roll out of superfast broadband with an emphasis on bringing it to the areas that are furthest from the main roads and mainline railway first. For businesses in those areas, broadband speeds are the key infrastructure issue - it is their connection with the world outside.
As our economy grows and local businesses think about their plans for the future, policy makers in Somerset need to be reminded that relocation to Bristol, Bath or larger towns in the county will be the only option if they can't get the connectivity they need to support their business in their existing location. James believes we need to stop this squeeze on the economy in this part of the county and, instead, be attracting businesses to come here from elsewhere.
In James' meetings with the Broadband Minister and with Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS), he was pleased to see that 86% of the properties in Draycott and Rodney Stoke should be able to access superfast broadband after their local cabinet was upgraded by CDS during the first phase of the Government funded rollout. However, thus far, only 13% of properties have taken the opportunity to connect.
Receiving a superfast connection is not automatic once the network locally has been upgraded. Instead, one will need to contact an Internet Service Provider in order to switch to a ‘fiber enabled’ broadband package. There is a real benefit in doing so because CDS and BT agreed when setting the contract for Phase 1 that public money would be repaid if the uptake exceeded the benchmark for a commercial deployment.
James is particularly excited with the Connecting Devon & Somerset’s excellent voucher scheme which will provide an immediate improvement for those with the very worst broadband.
James knows that broadband has been a frustration for many over the last few years and that it is never any consolation to know how well the deployment is going elsewhere. However, he is now making good progress and he will continue to apply pressure to ensure that continues.
"We have the well-educated, high skilled workforce, we have brilliant schools, our towns and villages are charming and they're surrounded by magnificent countryside" said James. "The quality of life arguments are already won but if we want businesses here in our part of Somerset rather than our towns simply being a dormitory for Bristol, Bath, Taunton and Yeovil; we need the infrastructure that is so essential for businesses in a modern, high speed economy where customers could be in Beijing as easily as they could be in Bridgwater."