LACK OF FAST BROADBAND SPEEDS IN HERTS IS BECOMING A ‘SERIOUS PROBLEM’ FOR BUSINESS

Lucy Neave

The relatively low access to faster broadband across Hertfordshire has been highlighted at a meeting involving council leaders.

More and more people are being forced to rely on virtual links for business and leisure – and access to faster broadband connections has never been more important.

But at a meeting of the Hertfordshire Growth Board on March 30, chief executive of the Local Enterprise Partnership, Neil Hayes, revealed that availability of faster ‘fibre to the premises’ broadband (FTTP) in the county was relatively poor.

He said that only eight per cent of premises were able to access FTTP connections, which connect directly to the premises rather than to a nearby cabinet.

That’s half as many as in neighbouring Essex, where the FTTP rate is 16.1 per cent. And it’s 10 per cent lower than the national average, of 18 per cent.

Further data presented to the board on access to ‘hyperfast’ gigabit broadband – capable of 1,000MB speeds – pointed to a wider disparity.

Mr Hayes said just eight per cent of premises in Hertfordshire were able to access connections that were gigabit capable – compared to 21.5 per cent in Essex and almost 18 per cent in Buckinghamshire.

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At the meeting, Mr Hayes outlined work by the growth board and broadband providers to look at the broadband market. Work will now continue on a digital strategy for the county.

Conservative county council leader Cllr David Williams said the lack of gigabit capacity in the county was “a real eye-opener”.

Cllr Sharon Taylor, Labour leader of Stevenage Borough Council, suggested this should be “a top priority”.

She said: “I think we have to have an absolute laser like focus on this. Otherwise we will lose ground to those other areas that have got the higher infrastructure.”

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat leader of St Albans District Council, Cllr Chris White, said: “I found the presentation quite chilling actually – and I think we need to be really quite scared about the nature of the competition from elsewhere – which is not necessarily the traditional places.”

Despite the limited access to FTTP broadband, Mr Hayes told the board that demand for ‘superfast’ broadband was higher in Hertfordshire than anywhere else in the UK.

The government recently announced the first areas to benefit from £5 billion of funding for fastest broadband connections, dubbed Project Gigabit.

Parts of Hertfordshire will benefit from the first round of funding.

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