I RECENTLY spoke to a couple who have both been freelancing at home since the recession. They explained that a lack of reliable broadband prevents them from working at the same time.
They can’t both be online together – so the husband has to work in the morning and the wife in the afternoon.
They could try to solve the problem by moving house, but a recent property survey found that homes without access to decent broadband speeds are worth an average 20 per cent less than those with faster speeds.
The market has come to consider broadband as just another utility service. The internet is as essential to pupils doing homework or householders shopping online, as it is to freelances working at home or, indeed, businesses needing to grow.
But this is the most rural county in the South East, so we have to be pragmatic in trying to extend the social and economic benefits of broadband. Let’s not forget that if the commercial market had been left to its own devices, only 70 per cent of premises in Oxfordshire would have any form of broadband.
Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron (centre) with County Council leader Ian Hudspeth (2nd left) after switching on a Better Broadband cabinet in Alvescot
The county council’s “Better Broadband” programme has now got under way, two years ahead of national estimates. It aims to ensure that by the end of 2015 more than 90 per cent of premises in Oxfordshire can access so-called superfast broadband – that is, at least 24 megabits per second (mbps) delivered through fibre-optic cables.
We are also pushing for more investment from our local and national partners – the district councils and the Government – to raise this target to 95 per cent of premises, with the remaining five per cent having speeds at least fast enough to use Skype or watch BBC iPlayer.
The broadband programme involves BT laying fibre cables in an underground duct from your local telephone exchange to a new fibre-enabled cabinet which is built next to the existing green roadside cabinet.
These cabinets are then connected to each other, and broadband is delivered to your home or business down the existing copper telephone lines.
Although BT was not due to start upgrading cabinets until April, our project is delivering early. Four cabinets have already been enabled, serving around 1,000 premises in south and west Oxfordshire.
BT’s survey work is also ahead of schedule, with complex network design plans determining where new cabinets will go.
Homes and businesses in rural areas are already benefiting. Alvescot in West Oxfordshire, for example, recently celebrated being one of the first villages to be enabled through the county council project. One of the many beneficiaries is the local pub, The Plough, which was quick to recognise the business boost with facilities like fast card payments for customers.
We recently announced that work has begun to upgrade cabinets which had previously been deemed commercially unviable in the exchange areas of Chipping Norton, Carterton, Wallingford, Witney, Kidlington and Summertown.
The timing of these roll-outs will depend on factors such as finding access to power sources for new cabinets in rural areas, but this means that by the middle of 2014 people living in some of these areas will be able to order fibre broadband.
As the county council programme progresses we will keep everyone updated via our new (and award-winning) website and ensure that people know when broadband becomes available to order in their areas. Please bookmark the website betterbroadbandoxfordshire.org.uk By the end of 2015, more than 64,000 more homes and businesses in Oxfordshire will be able to use fibre broadband.
And the couple freelancing at home, whom I mentioned earlier, will at last need to buy a second computer!