Minister vows to keep up pace of broadband upgrades

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The minister responsible for broadband has told a meeting of Norfolk councillors work will carry on until everyone can be properly connected.

Culture secretary Matt Hancock delivered the pledge during a meeting with parish and town representatives, held at the Weeting village hall on Friday night.

The session saw representatives from across a large part of the county voicing concerns about a lack of connectivity, via both broadband and mobile phones, in their communities.

But Mr Hancock told them: “We will not stop working on this until everyone has decent broadband.”

The meeting was arranged by Mr Hancock’s Cabinet colleague, South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, for parish authorities across the whole constituency.

She said superfast broadband connectivity across the constituency had risen from 40 to 80 per cent since 2012.

But she added: “What I want to know is how we are going to get that final 20 per cent upgraded.

“Broadband is more vital now than it’s ever been, whether you’re a child wanting to do your homework or a company trying to do business online.

“It’s become a utility we all need in everyday life.”

And representatives of several villages took the chance to raise their concerns about limited connections with both Mr Hancock and representatives of both Openreach, the company responsible for maintaining connections, and Better Broadband for Norfolk (BBFN), a partnership organisation which is overseeing the upgrades.

Welney parish councillor Ganeey Bombota said the current plan to upgrade connections in his village would only reach three-quarters of its residents.

He said villagers had previously been given two earlier dates for upgrades which weren’t delivered and claimed current arrangements, through which residents have to connect through a nearby exchange, made links “even more unreliable.”

A Marham representative said his village had also been promised faster connections last September, which had yet to materialise.

Openreach and BBFN officials both pledged to look into the individual cases raised at the meeting, including reports of repeated problems with landline connections in Snetterton.

Michael Salter-Church, Openreach’s head of external affairs and policy, said: “That shouldn’t happen.”

And Mr Hancock insisted he understood how frustrating poor connections could be.

But he said Norfolk was leading the way through schemes such as the agreement with the Diocese of Norwich to install 25 metre phone masts on churches to improve links.

He added that businesses could also benefit from a recently-introduced scheme offering vouchers worth up to £3,500 to help reduce the cost of broadband upgrades, after one speaker said she had been quoted a £50,000 price.

The meeting was also told, in response to a question from Swaffham councillor Paul Darby, that developers are now legally required to arrange broadband connections as part of the construction process for schemes of more than 30 homes.

However, that has only been a legal requirement for the last year.