Cheltenham has undergone a broadband revolution in the last few years with at least 88% of the town now able to upgrade to superfast fibre-optic broadband with speeds of 35 Megabits per second (Mbps) or faster. But it has also become clear in the last year that thousands of homes in Cheltenham have been left out of this revolution. Gaps have been left between the commercial operators like BT and Virgin and the government-subsidised 'Fastershire' programme being run by the county council.
This is particularly serious as Cheltenham had historically poor broadband speeds, some as slow as 0.5 Mbps. Martin is lobbying ministers, operators and the county council to get broadband moving for everyone.
The origins of the problem in Cheltenham date back to the 1920s when Cheltenham got a central telephone exchange. As the town grew, the distance from that exchange initially just meant slightly worse voice call quality. Today, internet broadband speeds drop off sharply the further you are from the exchange. In outlying areas such as Up Hatherley and Springbank speeds can be as low as 0.5 Megabits per second (Mbps).
In today's world, that is unacceptable which is why Martin was one of those MPs who campaigned successfully for the government to invest in superfast broadband. A basic internet service is no longer a luxury. We use it for:
- Working from home
- Access to school homework
- Online banking
- Applications to university
- Job applications and benefit claims
- Responses to Government and other public consultations
The coalition government has put more than £100 million for England into a subsidised programme to reach those areas that are not commercially viable. They claim 96% of Cheltenham will be provided for. But that is almost certainly an overestimate as BT have only reached 88% so far and it is clear that new estates and developments across Cheltenham have been left out and the the county council's 'Fastershire' isn't filling the gaps.
The Government’s targets are for 90% availability of superfast broadband, with speeds as high as 25, 30 or more megabits per second, and for everyone to have the basic 2 Mbps broadband service. But there is a real risk is that neither target will be met in Cheltenham, and if they are not met in an urban area such as Cheltenham, they are unlikely to be met nationwide.
Martin has lobbied BT, Virgin, 'Fastershire' and government ministers, up to an including the Prime Minister on this issue and won't rest until we have 100% availability of superfast broadband in Cheltenham. You can read Martin's parliamentary speech on the issue here and watch it here.