‘I understand frustration’, minister tells digital divide campaigners

Clarke Willis MBE, (centre) CEO of Anglia Farmers, checks the local coverage before the start of th

Clarke Willis MBE, (centre) CEO of Anglia Farmers, checks the local coverage before the start of the Digital Divide Conference held at Newmarket, watched by MP Matthew Hancock (left) and George Freeman Mid Norfolk MP. - Credit: Archant

Norfolk and Suffolk still lag behind the national average for 'superfast' broadband coverage, but the government is committed to doing 'everything we can' to get blanket coverage, campaigners were told today.

Guest speaker Matthew Hancock, West Suffolk MP and digital minister, addressing the Digital Divide C

Guest speaker Matthew Hancock, West Suffolk MP and digital minister, addressing the Digital Divide Conference at Newmarket. - Credit: Archant

Digital minister and West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock told members of the East Anglian Digital Divide Alliance that he was working towards that goal, and getting more transparency for businesses and householders on how the service they get compares to others as he addressed their conference in Newmarket.

Nationally, the government was on track to get 95% of the population hooked up to 'superfast' speeds of 10 megabites or more by the end of this year, with 91% now over the threshold. However, in Suffolk, 89% currently had access to those speeds, and in Norfolk, 87%. The goal was to reach the final 5% of the population by 2020, it heard, but there were moves to improve their connectivity through a range of means.

The event, organised by Anglia Farmers Ltd, brought together farmers, farming leaders, businesses and politicians to discuss the patchy nature of broadband and mobile phone coverage in the region, and what is being done to enable rural communities to catch up with their urban counterparts.

Clarke Willis, chief executive of Anglia Farmers, and Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman hosted the discussion, which covered a broad range of issues, from getting more mobile phone masts and getting a 'full fibre service to homes, to urging the government to help poor families gain access to broadband.

The audience at the Digital Divide Conference at Newmarket.

The audience at the Digital Divide Conference at Newmarket. - Credit: Archant


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Mr Hancock acknowledged that the current situation was frustrating for the 10%-plus people in Suffolk and Norfolk without access to higher speed broadband.

'My message to them is I know just how frustrating slow broadband is. We are doing everything we can to bring high speed broadband to the whole of East Anglia and taking the law through parliament to require every household to have high speed broadband in a smilar way to landline phones now,' he said.

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He added that he was hopeful data which exposed the 'digital divide' among households more clearly would be published soon. A Digital Economy Bill which should get through Parliament by April would require this and it would be a 'real boon' to householders, he said.

He told delegates that the means by which digital connections were achieved was less important than that connectivity was achieved.

'I think of it in terms of connectivity - connectivity needs now and in the future,' he said.

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