One of my central missions since becoming the MP for Mid Norfolk has been the improvement of broadband coverage and mobile phone signal in ALL parts of the country, including the most rural areas. Fast, reliable broadband access, and strong, reliable mobile signal, is essential for homes, schools and businesses if we are to ensure that our part of Norfolk does not get left behind.
Despite considerable progress in the efforts to deliver 100% superfast broadband and mobile signal coverage (with approximately 95% of Norfolk now covered – up significantly since 2010), there remains work to be done however.
That’s why I have taken so seriously the concerns a sizeable group of residents and businesses in Mid Norfolk, and elsewhere, have about BT’s ‘Digital Voice’ switch over – which would see old copper landlines removed and internet providers setting up customers with alternative broadband and mobile (digital) services if they do not already have them.
As we modernise aging and increasingly costly and difficult to maintain communication systems, we must ensure NO ONE is left behind. The switch to digital services requires a stable supply of electricity and/or adequate signal coverage and, as we know too well, those are two things that cannot always be depended on in some of the more rural parts of our area. Many people, especially the elderly, are therefore rightly concerned about being cut off following the switch. They must be able to contact essential lifesaving services, as well as family and friends.
Having written to BT, along with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture Media Support and her team of ministers and officials, on behalf of several worried local constituents, I am delighted to see that BT have recognised the concerns of thousands of people and agreed to pause the project until such time that they have the key products and infrastructure in place to ensure far more resilient ‘digital’ connectivity. It is clear that they had underestimated the impact that their upgrades could have on those living in power-cut prone areas or areas without good mobile signal.
Of course, over the longer term, this switch is an essential part of updating our communications networks and bringing us into the 21st century. The fact that BT have listened to feedback and responded is positive news though and, aware of just how concerned many of my constituents were, I will continue to monitor the progress of the ‘Digital Voice’ initiative closely.
Please be assured that I will continue to build on my ‘Digital Divide’ campaign to get that final 5% of Norfolk connected to superfast broadband, as well as access to stable mobile coverage. To stay up to date or read back on some of my previous work, please do regularly visit my website.