The internet must be accessible to all
PUBLISHED: 17:25 20 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:43 20 February 2013
if your broadband service is inadequate your community can take on the problem, says Leo Hickish, of the Country Land & Business Association
By Leo Hickish, Chairman of the Sussex Branch of the Country Land & Business Association
When we last addressed the question of the digital divide the disparity in broadband provision between town and country in Sussex Life almost two years ago, we lamented the fact that here in Sussex there are parts of the countryside where the broadband service was, frankly, hopeless.
In May this year, Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert joined forces with West Sussex County Council to convene a broadband summit meeting in Chichester.
Ahead of the meeting Mr Herbert said: We are less than 50 miles from London and yet parts of rural West Sussex have no broadband coverage at all, while many areas have slow speeds.
It seems that not much has changed in the past two years. We still have non-broadband exchanges and fibre optic broadband for all seems a distant dream, with not-spots remaining not only in remote areas but just outside big towns such as Horsham and Guildford, where businesses should thrive. Londons download speeds are modest by international standards and in many areas of Sussex connection speeds still creep along at around five percent of what is normal in the capital.
The Government still says that Britain should have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. They have given Broadband Delivery UK 530 million to subsidise the laying of cables in more isolated areas. East and West Sussex, of course, bid for a share of this welcome but inadequate pot of money, but have been unsuccessful so far.
So where do we go from here? Our county councils have the issue high on their agenda and lobby for better provision but without extra funding, there is a limit to what they can do.
Where service is inadequate and there is no discernible prospect of matters improving there are a number of fixes.
There is no single solution which fits all what might be feasible for a group of rural businesses might be beyond the means of the residents of a hamlet, for example. But many communities have identified that a coordinated approach is the most effective way forward.
Many areas across the country have either already implemented projects offering better services or now have projects underway.
Just a small amount of research reveals that there are wireless services available in Pulborough, Bignor, West Dean and Chilgrove to take a few random examples. If you are interested in starting a community project to get faster broadband the first thing to check is whether one has already started in your area.
A good starting point is the Rural Broadband Partnership (www.ruralbroadband.com). You can submit your postcode to see if there are any community broadband projects in your area and investigate various ways in which you can bring your connection up to speed.
Until we see rural areas universally provided with acceptable broadband, I would continue to argue for the Final Third First, policy, which promotes the provision of a decent broadband connection for rural areas with slow connections before money is spent improving the speed for those whose broadband is already at an acceptable level.
Otherwise the rural-urban digital divide will only widen.