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New plea for improved rural broadband

PUBLISHED: 10:03 12 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:20 06 July 2010

New ways must be found to bring broadband to Suffolk's rural communities, a conference will be told today.

Proposals to improve the infra-structure, and progress to plug the rural 'not spots' where internet speeds and connection continue to cause problems, will be among the issues discussed by businesses and civic leaders.

New ways must be found to bring broadband to Suffolk's rural communities, a conference will be told today.

Proposals to improve the infra-structure, and progress to plug the rural 'not spots' where internet speeds and connection continue to cause problems, will be among the issues discussed by businesses and civic leaders.

During the election campaign, outgoing environment secretary Hilary Benn visited Suffolk and conceded that the need for broadband to reach rural areas was a major challenge for the 21st century.

But while all BT exchanges have broadband equipment, many rural areas still struggle with slow speeds and poor connections.

At today's event, organised by Suffolk County Council, at Trinity Park in Ipswich, delegates will consider different ways of delivering broadband to rural parts of the county - including using mobile phone technology.

Bruce Provan, who is responsible for the county's economic develop-ment policy, said: “We are not about actually putting in broadband - that is for a commercial business. But what we do want to show is the various ways it can be brought in to ensure everyone has access to a fast broadband connection somehow.”

Commercial broadband operators including BT will be showing off what they can offer rural residents, as will smaller operators such as Essex-based County Broadband and Rutland Telecom which specialise in bringing broadband to rural areas.

Mr Provan added: “It is organisa-tions like these who are so important in bringing fast, reliable broadband to rural areas - that has to be the future for a county like Suffolk.”

The county says there are three key groups that need better broadband connections: rural businesses, learners with IT access who need to gain or improve their qualifications, and residents who require reliable access for healthcare, culture and other aspects of everyday life.

One of the speakers at today's conference is Graham Downing, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the CLA, who runs a publishing and public relations business from his farm at Chediston, near Halesworth.

Mr Downing said that when he converted the farm and created new offices, two miles of broadband cable was laid from the exchange in Halesworth with help from the East of England Development Agency.

“My wife and I have separate businesses here. Between us we employ six people - if there was not broadband here we would have to move somewhere else,” he said. “We live at a time when people expect to have broadband access to watch streaming videos, to watch the Iplayer, for basic home use.”

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