Feelings are running so high in Taunton Deane regarding the roll out of the superfast broadband programme that MP Rebecca Pow went on a walking fact finding tour of Taunton with Head of BT South West region Paul Coles and leading members of the Connecting Devon and Somerset team to try and press for more answers.
‘Understanding the complexities of this roll out goes some way to helping to understand why some areas are not coming under the first phase of connection. Connecting up the whole of Devon and Somerset requires the equivalent of a quarter of a million miles of fibre to be installed which is the same as the distance from here to the moon. From the Taunton BT exchange 9,325 premises are connected via 60 cabinets but I wanted to look especially at those areas even in town that are not yet receiving SFB. In some instances problems are understandable for example the cabinet beside Mecca Bingo in Castle Way is awaiting archaeological excavations by English Heritage before work can continue, but I am pleased to say following much lobbying I have been assured that the area around the bottom of the High Street which has been a bug bear for many businesses is due to come on stream by December.
I have been lobbying on behalf of many rural areas too who are falling out of the 90% of properties covered in the first phase of Connecting Devon and Somerset (the largest SFB project nationally, costing the government £90million) including Heathfield, parts of Burrowbridge and Stoke St Gregory and Churchstanton. It seems that a range of alternative options may now be considered for some of these areas with the opening shortly of bidding for phase two of the contract. I am pressing for consideration of certain specific areas to be dealt with as ‘special’ areas, perhaps the Blackdown Hills, just as Dartmoor and Exmoor have been handled, something I discussed recently with locals in the Blackdown Hills AONB,’ says Rebecca.
One aspect Rebecca Pow, who is vice chair or the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Broadband and a member of the Defra Select Committee, will be pressing government for is legislation to ensure that all new premises must have fibre brought to the premises as is the case currently with wires. ‘It is quite ridiculous that this is not already in our planning law,’ says Rebecca, ‘some development companies are doing this already at their own expense but it should be essential for all new properties to be required to included SFB connection automatically. Broadband is our third utility after electricity and water it this really needs to be addressed.’