Broadband rollout: Concerns over provision in the most rural areas

Fontburn residents, including Louise Kirkwood, right, at the start of their broadband campaign in 2011.
Fontburn residents, including Louise Kirkwood, right, at the start of their broadband campaign in 2011.

One location in Northumberland that certainly doesn’t have access to superfast broadband yet is the remote Fontburn valley, a few miles outside Rothbury.

Fontburn Internet Project (FIP) has been campaigning for a number of years for better provision and their comments were last week mentioned in a report on rural broadband by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Paragraph 10 of the report, which cites FIP, reads: “For those affected, there is concern that coverage targets and deadlines are unclear, minimum speed requirements too slow and distribution of information at local level too poor.”

The report also says: “There is a risk in the current approach that improving service for those who already have it will leave even further behind the five per cent of premises who have none,” it continues.

“There is a risk of poor rural broadband availability causing harm to farm businesses and the rural economy. It is essential that those who are ‘hardest-to-reach’ are given priority.”

Julie Famelton, founder member of FIP, said: “Like everyone else out here, I currently have no internet access at all via my phone line, let alone superfast broadband.

“Internet access is a necessity as we run our farming business from home and now a lot of school homework is set and needs to be submitted online with Northumberland County Council and other services fast moving that way.

“We are on the Rothbury exchange, and had hoped when the Rothbury RCBF (Rural Community Broadband Fund) was announced we would get something, but it has delivered absolutely nothing for us.”

Louise Kirkwood, another founder member of FIP, added: “I do wonder where all the money supposedly channelled into rural broadband has gone? And where the money still promised is going to be spent?

“The most worrying thing and what makes me most angry is that, after years of discussion, committee meetings, advisory groups and millions of pounds apparently spent, there still appear to be no real plans at all to help people living and working in small, isolated places like Fontburn and no reliable information about what, if anything, is ever going to happen to improve this situation.”

Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “The iNorthumberland programme is a partnership between the council and BT, and we work together through a framework set out by the Government.

“The programme has achieved some great successes – and already almost 35,000 properties have been connected to high-speed fibre broadband.

“We have been successful in connecting many rural properties – but unfortunately, despite significant work by the partnership, there are still some areas such as Fontburn where there is currently not a solution which provides value for money under the current framework.

“We will continue our work in the hope that a solution can be found in the future.”