Communities cannot live in the digital dark ages
Hello? Can you hear me? Hello? Hello?
Anyone who lives and works in the far South West will be familiar with conversations like that one.
It is immensely frustrating and undoubtedly connectivity problems are holding back business and enterprise in the peninsula.
It remains extraordinary that you can fly to the other side of the world and your mobile phone will work almost as you step off the plane, but drive over Dartmoor or to the other side of Bodmin and the chances of a decent signal are very remote indeed.
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If you really want a taste of the problem, just try working on the train to London.
While mobile phone signal is holding the South West back, broadband remains an issue for many too.
Last week the Public Accounts Committee published a report that said that rural areas in the South West were suffering from a raw deal. According to the Country Landowners Association, the situation is so bad that some areas are locked in the technological Dark Ages – and look set to remain there.
While accepting that there are a good many South West residents, especially some of its more elderly ones, who are very happy to be inhabitants of the Digital Dark Ages – mobile and broadband are surely the two areas of infrastructure improvement that are most quickly achievable in the region.
Investment and improvement in both have been the subject of high-profile campaigns led by the CLA and the Countryside Alliance and they are issues that enjoy almost universal support.
In four years, more than 90 per cent of premises in the region will have access to superfast broadband. The programme is behind schedule but the providers must ensure that the missing 10 per cent – the so-called not-spots – are not left behind.
The need for comprehensive, affordable and effect- ive broadband throughout the countryside is indubitable.
Universal digital connectivity is essential so that rural communities and business can connect and compete.
Huge subsidies have been poured into the roll-out of broadband. The Government must ensure suppliers meet their targets and ensure the whole of the South West is able to properly inhabit the 21st century.