Northumberland community 'still without adequate broadband' header image

Published: 23rd Feb 2015

Rural communities across the UK are struggling with slow and inconsistent broadband, as many have been missed out of the government-backed rollout of super-fast speeds that will only service 95 per cent of the country, leaving five per cent left out in the cold.

Residents of an area of Northumberland have been campaigning for years to get their broadband provision improved, without much luck to date. However, their fortunes could be about to change, as they have been specifically mentioned in a report on rural connectivity published by the House of Commons' Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.

According to the Northumberland Gazette, Fontburn Valley, a few miles outside of Rothbury, has been struggling for years with substandard broadband and local people have even set up a group - the Fontburn Internet Project (FIP) - to focus their efforts on reaching a solution.

Clarification is needed

In paragraph ten of the new report, it explains that residents and businesses that are affected have not been given any information about targets and deadlines, while minimum speed requirements are too slow and the distribution of accurate facts and figures at a local level is poor.

"There is a risk in the current approach that improving service for those who already have it will leave even further behind the five per cent of premises who have none," it added.

The report noted that there is a real risk of inadequate broadband availability in the countryside causing damage to farming businesses and the rural economy. It claims that those who live in the hardest-to-reach areas of the UK are given priority in the rollout of super-fast speeds.

Access to broadband is 'vital'

Julie Famelton, founding member of the FIP, told the Northumberland Gazette that she, like everyone else in her community, has no access to the internet at all via her phone line, let alone super-fast speeds.

"Internet access is a necessity as we run our farming business from home and now a lot of school homework is set and needs to be submitted online with Northumberland County Council and other services fast moving that way,"

Ms Famelton said that her community is on the Rothbury exchange and she, along with her neighbours, hoped that when the Rural Community Broadband Fund was set up in the town, it would mean an end to the internet woes, but nothing has changed.

Louise Kirkwood, another founding member of the FIP, said she wonders where the money that was supposed to be used to improve rural broadband provision has gone, as her community has yet to experience any benefits.

She explained that the thing that makes her the most angry, is that despite years of campaigning, discussing, holding committee meetings, as well as million of pounds supposedly being spent to resolve the issue, there are still no real plans confirmed to help people living and working in rural areas of the UK.

Council claims there has been some success

Despite what residents and the report have said, the local council claims there has been some success in improving the broadband provision for a number of people living in remote areas.

Councillor Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, claims that the iNorthumberland programme - a partnership between the council and BT, has been triumphant, connecting almost 35,000 properties to super-fast speeds.

"We have been successful in connecting many rural properties - but unfortunately, despite significant work by the partnership, there are still some areas such as Fontburn where there is currently not a solution which provides value for money under the current framework," he continued.

For those struggling to find a solution to poor speeds, satellite broadband may be the answer, as it can provide fast and consistent connectivity, without the need for cables to be laid.