Each year, Rugby Borough Council carries out a series of scrutiny reviews on topics of local concern. A number of in-depth reviews are undertaken by small cross-party groups of councillors, who will gather evidence in order to make recommendations for change or improvement to the Council's Cabinet.
In order to assist in drawing up its work programme of reviews in 2010/11, Rugby is asking individuals and organisations (including parish councils) to suggest issues of local concern that would benefit from a detailed review by the Borough Council. With this in mind, over the weekend I submitted my suggested scrutiny review for inclusion within their 2010/11 work programme.
My suggestion is a review of the availability of highspeed broadband internet in rural communities within the borough. It can't have escaped anyone's attention in Shilton or Barnacle that the broadband access is slow at best, at times becoming non-existent. Where broadband is available, line speeds are so slow that making use of services like the BBC's iPlayer is impossible.
The problem is due to the distance from properties in the two villages to BT's exchange, which is located at Walsgrave. The further the distance between the house and the exchange, the slower the download speeds will be. I'm told my property is 6.1km away from the exchange, which is right at the limit of being able to access broadband services. And unless BT build an exchange closer to the village, things won't improve.
The Government are recommending that households throughout the country should have access to 2Mbps download speeds by 2012, and have introduced the 50p per month 'broadband tax' on all telephone line rentals to help pay for the infrastructure upgrades that will be required to deliver these improvements. The 2Mbps download speed is considered the minimum required to be able to watch streaming video services like the iPlayer and YouTube. But will these improvements happen before the end of 2012? I very much doubt it.
My scrutiny review would require Rugby Borough Council to establish how many households within the borough are currently unable to access broadband speeds in excess of the Government's recommended 2Mbps. It asks what measures Rugby Borough Council could take to ensure that those households currently without highspeed broadband access were not disadvantaged in accessing public information over the internet. And it challenges the Council to work with technology partners to look at innovative ways to bring highspeed broadband to rural communities within the borough through the use of wireless technologies.
There are many examples across the country where wireless technology has been used to provide the solution to slow broadband speeds. Hopefully, this proposed scrutiny review will help test the extent to which Rugby Borough Council are prepared to work with local communities to overcome pockets of super slow broadband.
Rugby's Overview and Scrutiny Management Board are meeting on 15 March to consider which reviews to take forward into next year's work programme. I shall keep you updated on progress as it develops. Broadband is no doubt a topic I'll return to again at another time!
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