The digital divide became even more apparent during the pandemic. And as you’d expect, our local communities and individuals responded.
A good example of this is the Donate IT scheme to recycle laptops and reissue them free to those who needed digital access.
The initiative was set up by Axbridge Town Council and local councillor Ben Ferguson. It includes a dedicated recycling point and has support from local firm Blackmore Ricotech, who provide free professional data wiping.
Residents can with confidence hand-in their old and unused IT equipment knowing it will be used for a good cause - and have the extra, added bonus of knowing they are helping our environment!
In Evercreech, Mendip’s Deputy Leader, Cllr Barry O’Leary, has been working with the community to recycle IT equipment too, and there are many more such examples of local residents trying to close the digital divide within their communities.
But it’s not just about better and fairer distribution of IT equipment. Actual access to fast broadband has become an essential part of how we live nowadays. With an assumption by many - including big business and official organisations such as our NHS - that everyone has digital access.
We increasingly need it for everything we do, from logging data on new livestock online, to taking part in digital doctor consultations. Many people, post-pandemic, now work from home. University students and school children take part in virtual study lessons, and then use their computers for homework assignments. So critical is digital access that stories abound that good broadband connection has become a key house-buying criteria.
The storms of last weekend with the loss of power, broadband and mobile signal has bought the issue home to many. Including myself. I was cut-off for most of the weekend and it was a stressful experience!
The project Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS), run by Devon and Somerset county councils over seven or more years, was supposed to ensure delivery of broadband to households. Similar organisations can be found across the country funded in the main by central government. There have been delays to the rollout of programmes for a number of reasons, including commercial build programmes, however, delays have real impact, and real consequences.
For communities across Mendip the rollout of broadband has been very patchy. It’s not just about the need for road closures to lay cable but also the availability of space on BT or Western Power poles. It can be an absolute lottery, within a small locality, a community or even on the same road, you’ll find some homes get fibre optics to their premises, where others have to make do with copper connections and so struggle for broadband speed, reliability, or indeed access at all.
This inequality of access to fast broadband in Somerset is affecting our economy, productivity and quality of life. Many small and emerging businesses are hampered by slow connectivity, and local people are affected when they cannot access key services.
So a plea to our county councils! Once and for all, please can you put time and focus on addressing this very real and important issue.
If youhave any questions for me, then please do get in touch by email: [email protected] or via Facebook: @RosWyke.
Written by Cllr Ros Wyke, Leader of Mendip District Council
Please get in touch either on my Facebook page @Ros.Wyke or you can send me an email: [email protected].