Countryside 'let down' by poor broadband signal – minister | This is …

Broadband in rural areas is so poor a “man with a stick” could deliver messages quicker, a Government minister has said.

Westcountry MP David Heath, a Liberal Democrat minister in the environment department, also described the Government’s expansion of super-fast internet speeds as “exasperating” that risks “failing” the countryside.

The outburst during a fringe meeting at the Lib Dem party conference in Glasgow comes amid delays to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) 1 billion state investment in the technology.

Mr Heath, MP for Somerton and Frome, also told delegates his mobile telephone signal is so inadequate he is forced into “squatting against the sink” to receive important calls from Whitehall.

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Towns and villages in the rural South West fear being left behind urban Britain thanks to inadequate connections. Ministers this summer pushed the goal of 95% of UK properties getting “superfast” broadband back to 2017.

Mr Heath’s blast suggests tension between his Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and DCMS.

Mr Heath said: “I have what is laughably described as broadband.

Frankly a man with a stick would be quicker at delivering a message than my so-called broadband.”

To get a mobile signal involves remaining in a “rather uncomfortable spot”, and expecting a call from his private office means “squatting against the sink in your kitchen waiting for the phone to ring”.

“How could I run a business from my home with that sort of provision,” he said. “This is a fundamental, not just social issue, it’s a huge economic issue for rural areas.”

The minister defended the role of Defra, seen as the guardian of the countryside, arguing it is “in the rather unenviable position of being the people that shout about the fact that country areas are left out”.

He added the pleas to Maria Miller’s department were made with “monotonous regularity”.

“It is a fact we have a serious problem if we blithely talk about 90% coverage that sounds great, except actually we live in the 10% in the rural parts of this country,” he said at the event hosted by the Countryside Alliance.

“The roll-out of broadband has been the most frustrating exercise. It’s bad enough not quite knowing the speed the main supplier is going to roll-out they won’t even tell you the bits they’re not going to reach. It becomes a little bit exasperating.

But I think we’re making progress on that.”

He went on that broadband was not “an optional extra for people in deep rural areas”.

“This is absolutely essential for our economic future,” he said. “We simply cannot create jobs in rural Britain if we don’t have the basic infrastructure to underpin it.

“In terms of mobile communications, in terms of broadband.

That is as basic as the road was a century ago.

“Unless we are prepared to make that investment as a Government, and follow it through with the companies that are the main providers, we will have failed a very significant part of our rural communities.”

The 50 million scheme in Devon and Somerset has a 90% “super-fast” target by 2016.

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly 132 million project, funded by EU subsidies, wants for 95% of premises up to speed by next year.

The National Audit Office has slammed the Government’s plans for broadband and the Countryside Alliance has found rural counties are five times more likely to suffer failed calls on their mobiles.

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