RESIDENTS and businesses in rural villages around Watlington could be given a faster internet connection. A new broadband universal service obligation , giving everyone the legal right to a fast broadband connection, was announced in the Queen&rsquos Speech. The Government hopes this will help people living and working in less populated areas who struggle to access superfast broadband. They include residents of Howe Hill, Britwell Hill, Cookley Green, Greenfield, Park Corner, Pishill with Stonor, Russell&rsquos Water and Swyncombe, who formed campaign group Connect 8 last year because they feared missing out on the superfast broadband programme being rolled out across Oxfordshire by BT. The new universal service obligation would work like the telephone landline obligation but people in the very remotest areas might be expected to contribute to the cost of installation. The Government expects the minimum speed to be at least 10 megabits per second initially but the Bill will include a power to direct Ofcom to review the speed regularly to ensure it is still sufficient. Henley MP John Howell said: I am glad to see that the Government is planning to bring in legislation that will bring broadband to the remaining five per cent hardest to reach areas. People and businesses in those areas will now have a legal entitlement to request fast broadband and, up to a reasonable cost threshold, they must be provided with it. There may still be areas which are too expensive and too remote to reach and we will need to watch the details carefully.
However, this is a further step in the right direction. Connect 8, which is to hold a public meeting on the issue next week, also welcomed the move. Founder member Peter Richardson said: From the outset of the campaign, we have stated that coverage in our area will be best achieved through a combination of as much laid fibre as we can secure from BT as part of the Better Broadband programme and wireless in the areas not covered.
Those areas require broadband sooner rather than in a few years and the most cost-effective method will be by wireless. The meeting will be held at Russell&rsquos Water village hall on Tuesday at 7.30pm. Speakers will include Stacey King, BT&rsquos partnership director for the South-East, and Oxfordshire contracts manager Mark Rawlings. Connect 8 has also been given permission by Thames Valley Police to use the Britwell Hill masts as the starting distribution point for wireless broadband proposals from Village Networks. Meanwwhile, Mr Howell has criticised the level of mobile signal in rural areas including Benson, Roke, Rokemarsh and Berrick Salome. He raised his concerns about the OX10 6 postcode area in a letter to Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy. He said: The Ofcom maps of the area show a very mixed picture. Even where the maps suggest there is good coverage but our experience suggests otherwise, we should be using the Ofcom coverage checker to ensure that Ofcom gets the feedback on the actual situation. Mr Vaizey pointed to licence and other agreements with mobile network operators to provide voice and SMS text coverage for more than 97 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017.
Mr Howell said: This is indeed good news but it does not bring immediate relief to the people of this constituency as local improvements will still be subject to local commercial decisions.
However, I am assured that by 2017, the not-spots in Oxfordshire will be down to 0.5 per cent of the landmass, which is a major improvement.