Since Boris Johnson was appointed as Prime Minister at the end of July, the primary focus of the government has rightly been preparing the United Kingdom to leave the European Union at the end of October. There have been renewed efforts to re-open the negotiations on the withdrawal agreement between this country and the EU, so that a deal can be reached which would be acceptable to the UK. As a minimum this requires the removal of the ‘backstop’ arrangements in the current draft of the agreement, which would leave the UK bound potentially indefinitely, to the rules of the EU single market and customs union. Boris Johnson’s meetings last week in Berlin and Paris with the leaders of the German and French governments, have shown that Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are still open to the idea of renegotiating the terms of the withdrawal agreement. The meeting of the G7 leaders in Biarritz at the weekend has also shown that the UK has an ongoing role in engaging with other leading nations, whether or not we are members of the European Union.
However, whilst the government has been working on Brexit, it has also been setting out new policies and initiatives to support the long-term infrastructure needs of the country. One key aspect of this is improving our digital networks, particularly in rural and poorly served areas. Boris Johnson has stated that he wants every home to have a direct fibre connection for broadband services by 2025. Currently in our district, a fibre to the home service is generally only accessible to customers of cable TV networks like Virgin Media. The speed of service in terms of downloading content on a full fibre connection is five to six times faster than the best service available from traditional superfast broadband.
This is a major commitment to improving our national infrastructure, but to deliver it we need to learn the lessons from the roll out of superfast broadband, which many readers of this column know is still not complete, particular in some parts of Romney Marsh and the North Downs. For me this means allowing more competition for the delivery of services and targeting state support at the hardest to reach areas. This week the government has also announced additional support to deliver 5G mobile signals in rural communities. ‘5G’, meaning the fifth generation of mobile services will create download speeds of around 100 gigabits per second, making 5G as much as 100 times faster than the current 4G signal. I know some local residents, including those living in villages like Elham, will say, that’s all well and good, but we can barely get a signal at all. Again, this is a reason why the government is going to focus initiatives to support the delivery of 5G in parts of the country that currently get the worst service.
The new Rural Connected Communities (RCC) competition will fund up to 10 5G research and development projects to run over the course of two years. These projects will trial innovative technical solutions to build the business case for investment in rural connectivity and explore the capabilities of 5G to benefit rural communities. They will also help demonstrate demand from a variety of economic sectors and rural communities for 5G technologies. Communities can find out more about this and how to apply by visiting www.gov.uk/dcms – or please also email me at [email protected] for more information.