My Broadband Vision – Julian Smith MP
Watching your favourite tv show, filling in your tax return, renewing your tax disc – just three things which we are now encouraged to do online. Which is fine if you can get a fast internet connection – but much of my constituency of Skipton and Ripon and large swathes of North Yorkshire cannot.
That is why I am delighted that the Government has chosen the county as one of just four market testing areas nationwide for superfast broadband. The aim is, over the coming months and years, to connect more communities to the internet, to improve the speeds of connections that already exist and to stop the disenfranchisement of thousands of people in hundreds of communities who do not currently get a decent internet connection.
Members of Parliament from across North Yorkshire, from across the political spectrum, came together to push for our area to be given this opportunity. We met with the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt last month to outline the reasons why the county would benefit so much from becoming this market testing area. We found, and I am glad that he too has found, the reasons compelling and the potential huge.
Across the UK, the average for the percentage of premises in low-speed areas is 18 per cent, across North Yorkshire it is 30 per cent. That figure would also be higher were it not for the innovative approach taken by many of the public sector organisations in North Yorkshire who came together and recognised that internet access was a limiting factor for many of them and the communities they served.
NYnet was, therefore, set-up, primarily by North Yorkshire County Council with the support of Yorkshire Forward and the European Union, to try and solve this problem. It has rolled out a fast internet network intended to ensure that North Yorkshire is not left behind by the rest of the world in the next phase of the internet revolution. NYnet has already completed a network for a range of public sector services in the county such as libraries and schools. It has also connected up several business parks to the high speed network with more to follow.
The organisation will be one of those driving this market test of superfast broadband. They will bring high speed connections to communities and then empower communities to share them among themselves. As Members of Parliament we have committed to help turn this vision into reality by bringing together telecommunication companies, internet firms and communities to outline the opportunities and benefits from superfast broadband now and in the future.
Outside of the major urban centres of York and Harrogate, such expansion to empower these communities is highly unlikely to happen if the market is left to itself. It hasn’t so far. Rural areas already suffer from a lack of infrastructure with poor transport links and services like Post Offices that have disappeared in recent years. In the commercial world this produces a downward spiral – the rurality of an area makes it less attractive for businesses to invest in so it is less commercially viable for services like superfast broadband.
The majority of businesses in many parts of North Yorkshire are small firms and farmers looking to diversify. The lack of decent internet connections in today’s connected world is a limiting factor for the growth in the private sector that will be needed in the coming months and years.
Becoming this pilot area is just the first step though. Offering superfast broadband will unlock the potential of many of our rural communities, invite businesses in to grow the rural economy and break down what has become a digital divide between rural and urban areas. Residents and businesses in North Yorkshire feel let down by a lack of investment in recent years. High speed internet connections will empower communities, allow them to reach their potential and make a real difference to the lives of many people in the short-term and for decades to come.
Julian Smith is the Member of Parliament for Skipton and Ripon.