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Superfast Broadband UPDATE: Superfast Summit

Last Friday (18 September) I hosted a ‘Superfast Summit’ in Kings Norton, where I met with senior officials from Virgin Media, BT, Digital Birmingham and alternative providers, to discuss the problem of superfast broadband not-spots in the constituency.

Many of you will be aware – or have even got in touch with me – about my campaign on poor broadband coverage. I have estimated that around 1500 homes or 6% of the constituency do not have access to superfast speeds. Quick access is not just about putting an end to iPlayer buffering, it has been found to affect house prices, and unfairly disrupts people working from home.

For urban areas, the Government is relying on commercial providers to administer the roll-out. But due to ‘commercial viability’ both BT Openreach and Virgin Media have missed out upgrading some streets. This leaves small pockets across the constituency excluded from the upgrade.

These pockets are dotted across the Birmingham Northfield constituency, but over half of the connections that aren’t capable of Superfast speeds are actually in Kings Norton. In fact Kings Norton currently has the worst rate across the whole of residential Birmingham.

My summit sought answers from the big providers about their perceived inaction and to urge progress.

I also welcomed smaller, alternative providers to consider innovative new ways of extending superfast coverage. Although no details were given, Virgin Media also indicated that they may be looking to a major national investment programme which could address at least some of the not spots in the area

A big problem at the moment is identifying exactly where superfast broadband coverage is at its weakest. It seems that both its historical dominance in telephony and its ongoing market position has left BT with more information about this than anyone else, including the Council-sponsored Digital Birmingham organisation. One of the key messages I took from the summit is BT’s unwillingness to share the information they have. It seems that BT refuse to share details of where existing not-spots are, even if they have no plans to do I extend services to those areas themselves. I can understand why they would not wish to share information with competitors, but why should they not do so with public authorities? I believe it is in the public interest that this information must be shared constructively to give other providers a level playing field.

Whilst I will be pursuing this matter with BT, in the end the summit proved successful. Other providers took note of the pockets I highlighted, and assured me further investment packages were on their way. Elsewhere, alternative providers identified new possibilities for people waiting to get access sooner.

The summit was a crucial step in improving coverage for our area, and I hope I can share further positive news soon.

In the meantime, if you think you don’t have access to Superfast Broadband, please get in touch: richard.burden.mp@parliament.uk.