Campaigners demand better broadband now

Picture: Getty Images

Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Campaigners in Devon and Somerset want better broadband now, not in the future, and say there are only two weeks left to challenge secretive county council bureaucrats.
Parish and district councillors from all over the two counties are demanding to know why they are not going to get a bite of the £5 billion offered by the Government being shared by Cornwall, Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Hampshire in Project Gigabit.
This scheme is aiming to get up to 1,000 megabits to every home.
But Connecting Devon and Somerset, CDS, the secretive officer led body set up to provide broadband, has opted out of the scheme until 2025. 
Campaigners say CDS is undemocratic, not transparent, that it hides behind non disclosure agreements, and does not allow customers to see minutes of meetings.
However CDS says it may get a bite of the cherry later, and Devon has sent a letter to every parish clerk in the county trumpeting local statistics and success.
Local campaigners have sent back an equally technical and strong response.
Graham Long, who for years has been a one man band fighting for better broadband in the two counties, says there is still just time to get “this crazy decision” reversed. He said the CDS decision puts the two counties “at the bottom of the pile.”
The Blackdown Hills Parish Network straddles both counties and now has support for the campaign from a much wider area following a zoom teleconference on Friday morning. 
The meeting was chaired by Bruce Payne, chairman of the Blackdown Hills AONB. He summarised by saying the whole issue of broadband was very confused. The confidentiality issues didn’t help the public at all. He said it is 
as though CDS officers are looking through a lens the opposite way to most people.
Heather Stallard, veteran Devon councillor, who represents 39 parish councils, said communities were extremely frustrated by the complexities involved.
“It may look all rosy on the CDS website, but it doesn’t feel like that to the public. Who turns down government investment for something as critical as this?”
She added that the Blackdown Hills Parish Network had been trying to get two local MPs, Neil Parish and Rebecca Pow, to a Zoom meeting since March and were still trying and waiting.
Graham Long, of Upottery, commented that local politicians and media outlets all found the complications and history of contracts and cash and promises almost too difficult to comprehend, and therefore the basic right of everyone to have a decent broadband connection was lost in recrimination and buck passing.
He said he found it inexplicable that the financial advantages of broadband to Devon and Somerset seem to be ignored as well as the desperate need from families. 
“Why aren't CDS, Devon CC and Somerset CC banging on the Government’s door and saying include us now!”
“There is still just time to get this crazy decision reversed. What right have two county councils to prevent national government investing locally? CDS is one of the worst performing local bodies in the country. Why are they allowed to delay it?  Please sign our petition now.”
Ross Henley, a Somerset West and Taunton councillor, said there was a lack of democratic accountability, and Sue Osborne, of South Somerset District Council, said it was a bureaucratic swamp that had avoided scrutiny.
Roger Habgood, another Somerset West and Taunton councillor, said the situation was baffling to most people but it was a real problem and people were suffering. There was no agenda to get it better.
Ian Hall, Devon county councillor,said the public did not always understand but needed the answers.
Marcus Kravis,a councillor for Somerset West and Taunton, agreed.