Published: 10th Mar 2014
A political row has broken out between local Conservative and Labour councillors in Northumberland due to delays to the planned introduction of broadband services in the area.
The Northumberland Gazette reports that the county council's plans to expand superfast internet access to the most rural areas have been severely impacted by cuts to staff working on the project, as well as a funding reduction of £713,000.
Conservative group leader Peter Jackson suggests the recent removal of the local broadband manager and his team, employed by Arch Digital, will throw the broadband rollout plans into "chaos", though Labour council leader Grant Davey has defended its approach.
He insisted the clawback was enacted in response to concerns that BT would not roll out fibre optic schemes to the most rural areas, because it would not be deemed cost-effective to do so.
BT is responsible for rolling out superfast broadband to 91 per cent of properties across the county, but this would leave the remaining nine per cent stuck with limited or no connectivity. Northumberland County Council therefore established Arch Digital last year as part of its development arm, Arch, in order to oversee the delivery of broadband services to the region's hardest-to-reach residents.
Broadband 4 Northumberland campaign director Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: "If the new broadband delivery team has been slashed, then our most rural communities will be the ones to suffer. Our campaigning over the last three years has driven the extensive work done to try to deliver broadband to our most rural areas."
This comes after a recent report from NFU Mutual highlighted the serious impact slow internet access can have on countryside communities. It revealed that one in five families in rural regions of the UK have struggled to access online resources for their children's schoolwork, meaning the education of these youngsters could be at risk.
Issues such as this could lead to an increased uptake of satellite broadband technology, which can provide speeds of up to 20 Mbps and is ideal for remote areas, as it only requires the installation of a small satellite dish and modem to function.
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