Make superfast broadband an essential to close the digital divide, urges MP

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THE digital divide between ‘haves and ‘have nots’ will only be ended in rural areas if Ministers regard superfast broadband as “an essential fourth utility”.

Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake made the call in Parliament in a debate on the Queen’s Speech in which he called for greater safeguards for countryside communities.

“According to almost every business person and key business organisations such as the Institute of Directors, the number one business priority in the UK and for many business people in my community is access to digital connections – superfast broadband and mobile phone networks,” Mr Hollinrake told MPs.

“To give the Government credit, we have seen a step change in access to these networks since 2010. Even in rural North Yorkshire, 88 per cent of premises are now covered by superfast broadband; 91 per cent will be by 2017, and 95 per cent by 2019.

“However, there is a growing gap between the haves and the have nots. As coverage increases, the voices of those without broadband understandably grow louder and more vociferous. For home or business, superfast broadband is no longer regarded as a luxury but as an essential fourth utility, and we must treat it as such.

“I welcome the bold ambition in the Queen’s Speech for our universal service obligation a digital imperative that the Government will deliver on.

“To meet this imperative and the further commitment to increase speed as demand and activity also increase, we need a new relationship between the consumer and the network operator, especially BT Openreach.

“I must say, I am sceptical about Ofcom’s halfway house solution – an internal separation of Openreach and BT.

“It is, to my mind, inconceivable that a separate board and a separation of assets will separate the vested interest of a network from the commercial opportunity of the wholesale, retail and content provider operations of BT.”