This Friday in Bridgnorth I am attending Google’s Digital Garage – to help local businesses develop their digital skills – as part of Bridgnorth’s prize for best Large Market Town at the Great British High Street Awards. This is a really practical benefit from a well justified victory.
Though rural areas have in the past lagged behind, digital skills are not something any of us can afford to ignore - job creation in digital industries is nearly three times as fast as in the rest of the economy. So it is vital we encourage online entrepreneurship in South Shropshire and teach young people the digital skills they need to succeed in life.
But for everyone to benefit from new technology we also need local connectivity to improve. I am encouraged at the progress now being made by Connecting Shropshire – the public side of broadband rollout in the county – which has now enabled superfast broadband through one or more cabinets in 83 telephone exchange areas across the county. This public rollout has taken time but has now delivered fibre broadband to 60,000 homes and businesses in Shropshire, with latest cabinets to be fibre enabled in South Shropshire including Ditton Priors, Kinlet, Longville, Lydbury North, and Stottesdon.
Some areas still experience poor broadband speeds. So it is good news that Connecting Shropshire will this month outline plans for the third phase of rollout, to provide superfast broadband to premises where no commercial provision is currently in place or planned. This should provide some clarity on which premises will benefit from this additional £11.7m investment.
Nationally, the Government is also taking steps to roll out faster broadband, and the Digital Economy Bill is currently progressing through Parliament. It contains the commitment to introduce a Universal Service Obligation - so every premise in the country will have access to broadband at a minimum speed of 10Mbps by the end of this Parliament. Needless to say, this would be an enormous boost to many households in South Shropshire.
There have also been a number of new mast applications approved by Shropshire Council recently, which will help expand mobile phone signal coverage. Most, but not all, of the these masts are being put in place by EE, as part of their commitment to increasing coverage ahead of taking over the Emergency Services Network from Airwave in 2019.
There is no question that digital skills will help grow our economy and provide access to rural services and jobs, given sufficient connectivity. So I will keep working with Government, Shropshire Council, and suppliers, to help deliver faster broadband and better mobile connectivity for South Shropshire. Do contact me if you are not getting the access you need.