[First published on South Leeds Life, 03 September 2016 http://www.southleedslife.com/holiday-reflections/]
First of all, many congratulations to the Leeds and Yorkshire Olympians – and by the time you read this I hope Para-Olympians - on their tremendous medal successes in Rio. Having spent part of my summer holiday glued to the television in the small hours, like many people, it’s a reminder of what skill, professionalism, dedication and sheer hard work can achieve.
Talking of holidays, we went to Scotland and found ourselves on the island of Islay. It is a beautiful place with sweeping beaches and whitewashed cottages, and home it seems to more whisky distilleries than any other place on earth. According to the Island’s website ”it is believed that the Irish monks first introduced the art of distillation to Islay during the early fourteenth century. Due to the fact that Islay was a fertile island for growing barley, called bere in the old days, with excellent pure water sources and plenty of peat, the island had everything in favour to distill whisky.” Being a teetotaller, my interest in the history doesn’t quite extend to sampling the product, but I am assured by those who do that it is very good!
One of the other essentials for an MP on holiday is searching for a wi-fi connection to keep up with emails and in touch with what’s happening in the world.
Discovering a superfast connection on the very north coast of rural Scotland really does bring home that some of my constituents still have to contend with a miserably slow broadband service, a point forcefully made by a number of emails I got while I was away. Sometimes they come from people who have just moved into the area and are shocked by the glacial pace of their connection; on other occasions it’s a sign that the patience of someone working from home has finally been exhausted.
Let’s face it, a good Internet connection is now as important to where we live as a supply of gas, electricity or a telephone is. Overall, the UK is doing pretty well with more and more homes and businesses having access to superfast broadband, but there are still pockets of unacceptably poor service in south Leeds.
What’s needed is investment to upgrade telephone cabinets and install fibre optic cables, but as I have learned while dealing with a number of complaints, it seems to be all down to the companies to decide whether they think it is commercially viable to do this or not. In one case I worked on with the local residents - in New Forest Village - BT Openreach had decided that there wouldn’t be a big enough take-up to justify the investment. But when they did eventually upgrade one of the cabinets they were overwhelmed with people wanting to buy faster broadband which suggested that their estimate of demand was way off.
Ofcom – the regulator – recently looked at the performance of BT Openreach and has set out a number of new conditions for it to meet, but the truth is very simple. We all need superfast broadband, whether it’s for our homework, online shopping, running our businesses or keeping in touch while we are away. It is now time we got it right across the city to ensure that Leeds remains a prosperous and vibrant place.
So would all the suppliers out there please note!