I have now been the Minister for Digital & Culture since July 2016, and since then I have given a tremendous amount of time, thought and energy into making our country a global leader digitally and to delivering on our Manifesto commitment to provide decent broadband to every premises in the country by 2020.
Broadband is something that many of us take for granted. We sit down at our laptops and expect good connectivity and speeds. We pick up our smart phones or tablets and we expect the same. The expectation of reliable, fast broadband here and now in 2016 is the same as turning on the tap and expecting clean, drinkable water to come out of it or flicking a switch and expecting that the lights to come on: it’s not a nice to have any more, but more like a utility.
But for too many parts of the country, including areas within my West Suffolk constituency, that is not the case. While nine out of ten can now access superfast broadband, some areas are blighted with slow speeds which make running a business, working from home or enjoying the leisure pursuits of downloading music, tv on demand or downloading films an impossibility. I want everyone to be able to participate in a modern, digital life with all the conveniences and benefits that it bestows on them.
Through the Digital Economy Bill, a bill which I am taking through Parliament, we are looking to create a legal right to minimum download speeds for consumers and to enact in law the requirement for internet service providers to provide compensation to consumers if service requirements are not met. The Bill will also enable the building of world-class digital infrastructure, empower consumers to connect, reform the way government uses data to digitally deliver public services, strengthen protections for citizens in the digital world and pave the way for improved broadband in the future. I hope it will help to fix today’s problems, and also prepare for the future. As well as getting decent connectivity to people now, we need to be rolling out full fibre, and laying the groundwork for 5G when it replaces 4G over the years ahead.
We can all play a role too in helping this roll out. While superfast broadband is available to nine out of ten, the way the contract with BT is structured, the more people who take it up, the more gets invested in connecting others. In Suffolk, around one in every three households that can take it up, do take it up. In other counties it is as high as 50%. The greater the take-up of superfast broadband, the greater the case for further investment by suppliers to areas where it is not yet available. So while there is a programme to roll out broadband to those who don’t yet have it, you can help others by signing up too. I hope you will check out whether it’s available to you, and take it up if it’s on offer: like many things in life, what’s good for you is good for your neighbour too!
More broadly I think this expanding connectivity is good for the digital future of the country as a whole. People increasingly desire and demand to live in a digital age, with the benefits that brings. We have the expertise and technology to make that happen, and soon we will have the laws in place to ensure that everyone can participate in the modern digital age. Those of us who are old enough to remember a time before the internet and all the ways that it can enrich our lives will wonder how we ever got along without it. I am confident that the day when the country is no longer divided by the digital have and have-nots is not very far off at all, and I will keep working at it until that day comes.
If you would like to contact me about this issue or any other matter, or you feel that there is a problem I could help you with, please do get in touch. I am always keen to hear from constituents and will do my best to help. I can be contacted via email at email@example.com or by phone on 01638 576 692.
-- Matthew Hancock is MP for West Suffolk