Somerset misses out
Today the Government announced a £5bn upgrade to the provision of broadband in rural areas. Most of rural England will benefit with contract values ranging from £40m in Northumbria to £250m in Hampshire. The current contracts or “lots” will see the money bid for on a rolling timetable from August 2022 (Cumbria) to October 2023 (South Yorkshire).
But there is nothing for Somerset in Phase 1 or Phase 2 of this project. It is a stark reminder of where we are. having (mis?)spent over £100m on Connecting Devon & Somerset. That project should have given Somerset a head start. It is the reason why we are no longer at the front of the queue.
Instead we have some of the worst broadband availability in Britain. Somerton & Frome constituency is in the bottom 25 constituencies in Great Britain (there are 650) for superfast broadband access. And Yeovil has the 8th slowest average broadband speed in the country.
The door is not completely closed. The announcement from the Department of Culture Media and Sport noted: “We are planning further Regional Supplier procurements (Phase 3) following Phases 1 and 2. These Lots will cover areas that currently have sizeable existing or planned build, where early intervention could destabilise commercial investment, or increase the risk of taxpayer funding being used to deliver gigabit connections that would otherwise have been delivered without public subsidy.“
There then follows a list of areas to be included in a future announcement, and that includes Devon & Somerset. So not all bad news. Except that 2.2m homes, many of which already have better broadband than Somerset, are now getting upgraded. Meanwhile Somerset is being left behind in a world where broadband access is a key part of commercial connectivity.