Somerset MPs David Warburton, MP for Somerton and Frome and Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane joined Matt Warman MP, Minister for Digital and Broadband and at a meeting in Yeovil to discuss the latest position regarding the Building Digital UK (BDUK) Superfast Programme in Somerset and Devon.
Also in attendance from Somerset were Pat Flaherty (CEO of Somerset County Council), Councillor David Hall (Deputy Leader of Somerset County Council and Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Planning and Community Infrastructure) District Councillor Clare Paul, Raj Kalia, CEO of BDUK and Kerrie Denton from Connecting Devon and Somerset.
At the meeting, local Somerset MPs urged immediate action on behalf of their constituents to secure full superfast broadband connectivity across the area.
Somerset’s rural landscape has been blamed for the failure of provider Gigaclear to complete its contract and connect the many residents and business who have fallen behind in the race for digital connectivity. Earlier this year, Connecting Devon and Somerset terminated its contract with Gigaclear and are now putting the contract out for tender once more.
David Warburton said, “This has become an untenable situation for so many local people who are simply unable to function in the ways necessary for the modern world. Broadband is another essential utility today, as water and electricity are. The past few years have seen a catalogue of errors, leaving our constituents at their wits end and watching the endless spinning wheel of doom while trying to do the most basic things online.”
BDUK said that there would now be 12 months of procurement, and then in 2021 services would finally be commissioned for those properties remaining outside the programme. In rural areas, which have always suffered the most, their connections may not, therefore, be established until 2024 or 2025.
David Warburton added, “My constituents are genuinely worried and confused. Voucher schemes have been offered, along with provision from other operators, but they simply don’t know whether to accept these. They have no idea whether they will soon see themselves connected in a more traditional way – so we must now give them certainty, pass them information and let them know what’s going on as soon as possible.”
Rebecca Pow said, “Connectivity is vital for individuals and businesses across Taunton Deane. It is therefore deeply disappointing that Connecting Devon and Somerset’s broadband roll out has been delayed further. This is an unacceptable situation for so many and on hearing the news, I convened an urgent meeting in Somerset with the Digital Minister which took place recently to look to the future. The meeting was positive and I look forward to working with other Devon and Somerset MPs as well as the Minister to ensure this matter is resolved with the urgency it deserves.”
It was agreed that a programme of engagement through Parish Councils, direct communication, online and other means must now be undertaken, so that local Somerset residents and businesses have the tools necessary to decide how to act. It was also agreed that there was now no more room for any new programme of connectivity to fail or fall behind.
David Warburton said, “The meeting was productive, and I think the concerns of local people were passed on to those making the decisions for us all, but there’s no room now for second chances. We need to be informed, we need to be connected and we need it now.”