RURAL areas across England must catch up with North Yorkshire’s rapid roll-out of high-speed internet services or risk falling behind, a local MP has warned.
Harrogate MP Andrew Jones praised North Yorkshire County Council’s success in harnessing Government funding to push ahead with plans to bring superfast broadband to 90 per cent of the county before the end of the year – putting it far ahead of any other rural county in England.
The Tory MP warned that some neighbouring areas are still drawing up initial contracts with telecoms giant BT to build their own rural networks, and so risk being left behind in the race for new infrastructure.
“Those doing the roll-out must be held accountable for the speed of progress,” Mr Jones said.
“It is not great that some counties seem to be only just starting the sprint when North Yorkshire is approaching the finish line.
“That is a competitive advantage for North Yorkshire — not something I worry about normally, but from the perspective of UK plc, we need everyone to be there. Whatever the blockages, constraints or capacity problems might be, they need to be removed.”
One of those counties is South Yorkshire, where council bosses still have no plan for how to deliver high-speed broadband to the countryside following the collapse of their disastrous £150m Digital Region project last year.
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey contrasted the “success” of the coalition Government’s private-led approach to rural broadband - with councils paying BT to extend its existing national network to more remote areas – to the public sector approach in South Yorkshire, which was abandoned last year because hardly any customers signed up.
Rejecting recent criticisms from Labour over the pace of the coalition’s programme, Mr Vaizey said: “We had to write off £50m from the programme put in place in South Yorkshire under the previous Government.
“We had to write off that money because they built an infrastructure but did not get any customers. Under the current programme, we have passed almost 400,000 homes.”
Dismissing concerns that BT has a “monopoly” over the £1.2bn of taxpayer funds available, Mr Vaizey added: “I do not resile from praising BT as a great British company doing a great job for Britain.”