Access to the internet is no longer a luxury – it is a vital necessity which we need every day at home, school and work. And it is also no longer good enough that people have to put up with slow speeds, unreliable connectivity and poor customer service from their broadband providers.
In many places, particularly in rural areas, these problems are incredibly common. In fact, Wealden falls into the bottom 20% of parliamentary constituencies for average download speed and access to superfast connections. I am determined that this will change, because my constituents should not be having to put up with this in 2016.
Infrastructure is vital for small businesses, and small businesses are vital for our economic success and prosperity. How are we going to build a rural powerhouse economy without focusing attention and investment on improving the infrastructure that increases capacity and drives enterprise and productivity.
I receive a huge amount of correspondence from frustrated constituents about their broadband connections, whether it be headteachers unable to fill out Ofsted forms on the internet, farmers unable to process online payment forms, students unable to do their homework or small businesses who are losing clients because they can’t complete orders quickly enough.
There is also an impact on older people. As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Older People, addressing ageing and loneliness is a priority of mine. The speed at which technology is changing is frightening for the best of us, but for older people it can be truly isolating. Making sure that they have access to the internet is not just an economic or technological issue but a social care issue. We cannot let anyone be left behind or left out.
For all these reasons, I am campaigning for improvements to broadband connectivity in Wealden, and my campaigning has included the following:
- 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
- Co-signing 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
Slow broadband is damaging the local economy and Britain quickly needs to start converting to a fully fibre network so it is not left behind as other nations rush to embrace digital advancement. I will continue campaigning for large-scale improvement nationally, and small-scale improvements which improve broadband connectivity for residents of Wealden as quickly as possible.