A PARISH council has criticised the progress of a project designed to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas.
At a recent meeting, Brightling Parish Council unanimously passed a strongly-worded resolution criticising the poor progress of the e-Sussex rural broadband project.
The council said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ that work on upgrading the Brightling exchange for the high-speed broadband is not scheduled to start until 2015 and expressed concern that not all properties in the parish would be upgraded.
It added East Sussex County Council’s original target of 100 percent coverage by high-speed broadband by 2017 ‘now appears to have become an vague aspiration with no plan or funding’.
In December 2011, then ESCC leader Peter Jones promised that every home and business in East Sussex should have access to superfast broadband within the next two years.
Brightling Parish Council chairman Andrew Wedmore said: “The reality is that they are now saying that they are going to deliver high-speed broadband to 96 percent of the county by sometime in 2016 – three years late and, crucially, not covering everyone.
“There was also a key promise that the more remote areas would be at the top of the list for the upgrade.
“The reality is that the roll-out sequence is entirely determined by BT.
“All we have been told is that Brightling will be in the last batch of exchanges to be upgraded, with work only starting in 2015 and then taking up to nine months to complete.
“Most of the smaller exchanges such as Brightling, are right at the end of the queue, making a nonsense of this promise.
“The reduced 96 percent target is an average for the whole county, so we have no way of knowing what the figure will be for Brightling.
“And we have no way of finding out which properties will and will not be included, so it is impossible to make any plans for providing for the unlucky houses which are deemed to be too hard to reach.”
He added: “In March 2012, I attended a meeting, organised by Greg Barker, MP at which we heard many rural-based businesses, particularly business centres, state that the lack of high-speed broadband was damaging their ability to attract and retain clients.
“For a thriving rural economy, we need businesses to be based in the countryside.
“To achieve this, we need high-speed broadband and we need it soon, not years into the future.
“We have made a number of attempts to get someone from the e-Sussex project to attend a meeting of Brightling Parish Council where they could be questioned and could listen to our concerns.
“Regrettably, they have repeatedly failed to make anyone available to talk to us.”
An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “The e-Sussex project will extend superfast coverage to 96 percent of eligible premises with more than 99 percent receiving vastly improved speeds.
“Every exchange in the county will be tackled, which compares favourably to many other local authority areas and some local authorities have only achieved just over 80 percent coverage
“We appreciate there is a real need for high-speed broadband and we are working very hard to reach as many premises as quickly as possible, but this is a huge engineering project that will cover more than 65,000 premises and it takes time to reach everyone.
“The Government’s target is for 90 per cent superfast broadband coverage by 2015 and we are on course to surpass that target and to attain 95 percent coverage.
“Less than one per cent of eligible premises will not receive superfast broadband by that date and we’re working with the Government and South East Local Enterprise Partnership to secure funding to allow those premises to be upgraded.
“We have offered to attend a Brightling Parish Council meeting in the spring and are awaiting a response.
“The local county council member for the area, Cllr John Barnes, also regularly attends the parish council’s meetings and keeps members updated on progress.”