Wealden is a unique constituency, with unique landscapes and unique challenges. Broadband has long been raised by constituents and businesses as one of the top challenges in this beautiful part of the world.
A good connection is no longer a luxury – it is a prerequisite of modern life, with people needing it to book GP appointments, log their tax returns,and keep in touch with loved ones. Additionally, 40% of respondents have consistently stated that they use their broadband connection for some form of professional use.
Ever since I first took up my seat as Member of Parliament for Wealden, I have been assiduously campaigning for better service in the constituency. In that vein, I have taken the following steps to deliver on my promise:
- I have conducted annual surveys to keep track of the coverage throughout the constituency. I have taken the findings of these surveys, to Wealden District Council, East Sussex County Council, the Government and BT Openreach.
- I have consistently and relentlessly lobbied Openreach to take action on the matter, highlighting that too many of my constituents don't get even a fraction of the service they pay for every month.
- I have held numerous meetings with the leadership of Openreach, particularly its CEO, Clive Selly, to find a bespoke, sustainable way forward.
- I have taken telling individual cases to Openreach, as an illustration of the pain Wealden residents face when attempting to surf the internet
- I have raised the issue with the appropriate Ministers.
- I have repeatedly called for better broadband, better service and better choice in the House of Commons, both during questions to Ministers and during debates, such as this Westminster Hall debate in June 2015
- I welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to put broadband on a similar footing to basic services such as water and electricity, when he announced the introduction of a “universal service obligation” for internet connectivity
- I Co-signed a report from the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG), of which I am a member, and a letter to The Telegraph, which calls for a formal separation of BT from the infrastructure-provider Openreach in order to kick-start broadband improvements
At the 2019 election, I was returned to Parliament on a promise to see tangible improvements by the end of the Parliament.
This election promise was not just made, but quickly delivered. Clive Selly, the Openreach CEO, unveiled an ambitious plan for building full fibre broadband facilities in 227 market towns and villages across the UK, with significant works due to start in Wealden shortly. Hailsham, Horsebridge, Lower Dicker, Upper Dicker, as well as Forest Row are the locations set to benefit from this much-awaited announcement. with work due to start .
However, I am not just taking Openreach at face value. I am checking in with them and keeping track of progress whenever I get the opportunity. Recently, I saw them at a drop-in event, in Parliament, where they reassured me that active progress is being made, with regards to finalising the Wealden development plan.
I am also delighted that the government is taking the roll-out of reliable broadband in hard-to-reach areas seriously. I have been assured that the Fair Funding Review will take into account the particular circumstances related to delivering services in rural areas. In addition, new laws will be put into place to accelerate the delivery of high-speed broadband across the country to ensure all new homes are built with reliable and fast internet.