‘How long is a piece of string?’ - fears over broadband rollout

PUBLISHED: 17:00 27 November 2015

Graham Long in Upottery with his laptop. Photo by Terry Ife ref mhh 7459-42-13TI Graham Long To order your copy of this photograph go to www.midweekherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24

Graham Long in Upottery with his laptop. Photo by Terry Ife ref mhh 7459-42-13TI Graham Long To order your copy of this photograph go to www.midweekherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24

Archant

Graham Long, a parish councillor in Upottery, has warned that delays in securing a contract to install more fibre-optic cables could lead to businesses leaving rural areas - and problems for homeowners trying to sell their properties.

Scores of rural properties in the Honiton district could have to wait years before they are supplied with superfast broadband.

That is the message from campaigner Graham Long, who is pushing for a faster roll-out of high-speed internet across Devon and Somerset.

Mr Long, who is also a parish councillor in Upottery, has warned that delays in securing a contract to install more fibre-optic cables could lead to businesses leaving rural areas - and problems for homeowners trying to sell their properties. He said the failure by Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS), a partnership tasked with delivering high-tech broadband to the region, will see some homeowners waiting ‘many more years’ before their internet speeds improve.

Larger urban areas like Honiton are already served by superfast broadband.

But in rural areas, where it is less profitable and more costly to install fibre-optic cables, companies would be reluctant to upgrade the infrastructure voluntarily – which is where CDS comes in. Phase one of the CDS project is already under way. It plans to provide 90 per cent of homes with superfast broadband by the end of 2016 and has already supplied places including Feniton and Gittisham.

But an agreement to supply phase two of the scheme, which aims for 95 per cent coverage, has yet to be finalised.

And when asked by county councillors when phase two work would be completed, programme director for CDS Keri Denton said: “How long is a piece of string?”

Mr Long told the Herald: “The current best estimate as to how long a piece of string may be seems to be July 2016, which will be over a year after all other UK counties secured their phase two funding and got the project under way.

“Government ministers still talk about all the UK having 95 per cent superfast coverage by the end of 2017, but by July 2016, CDS will have spent two-and-a-half years trying to put a contract in place.

“The end of 2017 now looks like a target that will be missed.”

But CDS says a phase two contract has not been awarded yet because a previous offer from BT did not represent good value for taxpayers.

CDS board member Andrew Leadbetter said: “The contract was not awarded because it did not offer value for money or sufficient further coverage, which would have disadvantaged our residents.

“We’re making excellent progress towards delivering superfast speeds of homes and businesses covered by our programme.

“Over 990 fibre broadband cabinets and 224,000 homes and businesses already have access to fibre.”

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