West Dorset broadband 'not spots' to be thing of the past

Bridport and Lyme Regis News

WEST Dorset MP Oliver Letwin’s promise to Askerswell villagers that rural superfast broadband ‘not spot’ areas will be a thing of the past has been backed by £250million of government money.

However, the cash will need to be match-funded by local authorities.

At a meeting of parishioners Mr Letwin said that the government had plans for dealing with the three per cent of Dorset not currently covered by BT’s broadband programme.

On Tuesday culture secretary, Maria Miller pledged £250m for the South West to help some of the hardest to reach rural areas.

Bridport, Chideock and Char-mouth have already been named as some of the first towns in West Dorset to be connected to superfast broadband.

This funding is in addition to the £1.2bn already invested by central and local government to ensure 95 per cent of UK homes and businesses have access to superfast broadband by 2017.

The government calculate faster broadband will create 56,000 jobs in the UK by 2024, and the work involved in the current roll-out is expected to provide a £1.5billion boost to local economies.

Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole has been allocated £770,000 from the £250m.

Ian Girling, president of Dorset Chamber of Commerce, said: “We believe access to superfast broadband is absolutely essential if businesses are to benefit from digital technology.

 “In this age, superfast broadband is essential if businesses are really able to use web-based technologies and the lack of superfast broadband is a serious problem for many businesses, particularly those in rural areas.”

James Weld from Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership added: “We are delighted that Dorset will have the funding to be able to reach the more isolated areas of the county with superfast broadband.

“Broadband is probably one of the most important factors in seeking growth and this additional money will permit smaller and more remote rural businesses to contribute to that.”

The fund opens on March 17 and local authorities are being asked to offer support to pilot projects.

Mr Letwin was invited by Askerswell residents to hear their concerns about broadband.

Antony Wilsdon from Askerswell said: “Mr Letwin cheered us up by explaining that the government has plans for dealing with the ‘not spots’.

“This will involve, in the first instance, some pilot studies to determine the cheapest and most efficient ways of filling in the gaps left by the BT rollout.

“It is hoped to complete these pilots this year, so that money for the ‘filling-in’ operation can be included in the Chancellor’s 2014 autumn statement.

“We were given the heartening assurance that we will not remain second-class citizens forever and that eventually we will get the same broadband speeds as the rest of the nation – just a year or two late.”