Nick Herbert: We must not be left in the slow lane

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert
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I attended the excellent Amberley Business Breakfast recently and was asked about local broadband provision. I was pleased to be be able to relay good news on the plan to improve broadband in the county.

Too many of our Downland villages have poor or even non-existent broadband. Until recently, two of the four ‘not-spots’ in the whole of England were in West Sussex.

Yet a good broadband connection is anything but a luxury. It is vital to support the rural economy as well as for leisure. Rural communities must not be left in the slow lane.

So three years ago I organised a summit, with the help of West Sussex County Council, to promote better broadband access in West Sussex. It was addressed by the then Culture Secretary and senior representatives from organisations such as BT.

After this the Government announced a national superfast broadband programme and granted over £6 million to the county council, which then matched the sum from its own resources, to develop a plan for West Sussex, ‘Better Connected’. BT won the tender because it was, in the end, the only bidder.

We’re already seeing progress. Last year, fibre broadband with speeds of up to 80Mbps was introduced in Storrington, Steyning, Hassocks and Henfield.

Over the course of this year, BT plan to bring fibre broadband to Hurstpierpoint, Graffham, Petworth, Pulborough and West Chiltington. In parts of these villages where fibre is not possible, a speed of up to 20Mbps is being provided through copper wires, as is the case in Eastergate and Arundel.

The other 14 exchanges in my constituency remain at speeds of up to 8Mbps only, and often much slower. These are the areas that the Government’s subsidy was particularly aimed at improving. The national target is to give 95 per cent of households access to at least 24Mbps by Spring 2017. West Sussex hopes to come in ahead of that target.

Before Easter, the county council plans to announce the next areas to have their service upgraded, with a general timetable for the rest of the county. You can follow progress on their new website: www.westsussex-betterconnected.org.uk.

There’s still a way to go, but it’s heartening to see that since my summit, better broadband is at last coming to West Sussex.

If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or email me at nick@nickherbert.com