James Heappey Weekly Column

There are plenty of road closures at the moment as our roads are dug up for the arrival of fibre broadband. This has been a long time coming and represents a step change in connectivity for communities who have had to wait years to get superfast broadband speeds.

These installations by Gigaclear are the second part of the Government funded Connecting Devon & Somerset programme and will fill in many of the holes left by the first phase and the commercial roll out that Openreach have been running in parallel. When it is complete, over 95% of premises in the Wells Constituency will have access to superfast speeds - a huge improvement on the 2015 figure.

Moreover, our broadband market is benefitting from competition with TrueSpeed and Openreach both working with communities across the constituency to deliver fibre partnerships irrespective of whether Gigaclear is on its way there too. There are some villages that were getting speeds of less than 1 megabit per second (mbps) eighteen months ago but now have two separate fibre networks competing for their business.

Yet at the end of all this, I'm acutely aware that there will still be one in twenty properties that will be struggling with poor connectivity and that these properties will invariably be farms and more isolated rural businesses and homes. The Government has been talking about a Universal Service Obligation which would guarentee everyone a minimum connection speed of 10 mbps but when full fibre connections elsewhere are capable of delivering 1000 mbps and more, the digital divide is just getting too big.

That's why the Prime Minister's pledge to deliver universal fibre broadband is such an important pledge for communities like ours. If rural areas are to be places of work not just places to live, there can't be a twin track economy and I'm delighted the PM has committed that there won't be.