Time to end Pendle's 'digital divide' councillors say

Liberal Democrat councillors in Pendle have called for an end to the digital divide in the borough.
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Speaking at Thursday's meeting of Pendle Council's Policy and Resources Committee, Liberal group and deputy leader of the council, Coun. David Whipp said it was "beyond time" that rural residents and businesses outside the urban conurbation of Nelson, Colne and Brierfield had access to fast fibre broadband links.

The comments came as it was revealed by Leader Times that almost half of houses in Pendle are incapable of accessing full-fibre broadband. Figures from the House of Commons library showed just 51.9% of households in Pendle could receive speeds of one gigabit per second in September 2020.

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This coverage differs greatly throughout the parliamentary constituency – from 90.3% of homes in Nelson East, to none in Earby and Salterforth.

Engineers working in Barnoldswick on the fibre rolloutEngineers working in Barnoldswick on the fibre rollout
Engineers working in Barnoldswick on the fibre rollout

Coun. Whipp said: "Openreach is installing fast, fibre to the premises, broadband for properties on the Barnoldswick exchange but the Earby telephone exchange is not included in the programme and other rural communities such as Foulridge, Laneshawbridge and Trawden are also on the wrong side of the digital divide.

"Virgin covers the urban core of the borough but the rural fringe is stuck with relatively slow copper connections from street cabinets to people's homes."

Liberal Democrat colleague, Fence councillor Brian Newman supported the proposal, when he said: "Pendleside villages such as Fence and Higham have many people working from home and they need decent internet access."

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Councillor Whipp explained that "a small army of Openreach engineers" were currently installing a new fibre 'spine' from their Nelson exchange through to Barnoldswick and that phone lines in the town, together with Salterforth's, were being upgraded to give fibre to the premises (FTTP).

In meetings with Openreach, the leadership of Pendle Council had asked for work to be extended to cover Earby and other rural communities.

The committee agreed to ask Openreach to extend the FTTP programme.

Openreach's Mark Chamberlain responded to the committee's request on Friday, and said: "In terms of further deployment to Earby and rural Pendle, I’m afraid that there is nothing further planned in the Openreach commercial rural fibre broadband build programme at this stage for that area."

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Coun. Whipp has asked for a meeting between Pendle Council and Openreach to discuss the matter further and raised the issue with Pendle's MP on Friday afternoon.

"I'm determined to close the digital divide for the thousands of Pendle residents. With home working and home schooling, it's critical that everyone has good access to the internet," he added.