Mansfield left in a broadband ‘desert’

.Irvin Robinson  Chairman of the 2020 organisation sits patiently waiting for an Internet connection at his office at the Mansfield Business Centre today
.Irvin Robinson Chairman of the 2020 organisation sits patiently waiting for an Internet connection at his office at the Mansfield Business Centre today

SLOW internet speeds are costing Mansfield companies business and leaving the town lagging behind its rivals, according a to a new survey.

A questionnaire sent out to members of the business community found that 78 per cent of firms were ‘very concerned’ about the level and quality of broadband coverage.

And 94 per cent of those asked said the provision of new super-fast broadband would improve their overall business performance, in the survey carried out by the Mansfield 2020 networking organisation.

And while other towns in the country press ahead with ever faster speeds, and rural areas benefit from Government grants to transform coverage, businesses feel Mansfield is being left in the slow lane.

Irvin Robinson, Mansfield 2020 chairman, said the town was a ‘desert’ for broadband capability and this was stifling the town’s businesses.

“Due to the infrastructure and certain other factors there is a very patchy coverage in our area,” he said. We are hoping this survey will galvanise support to show businesses want and need faster speeds.

“Internet providers operate in a commercial framework and we need to create commercial pressure so they get cracking in our area.”

The survey also found that 70 per cent of companies would consider the provision of super-fast broadband as ‘very important’ if they were planning to relocate or expand. Last year, Chad reported that businesses and householders were being encouraged to vote online in a bid to bring these faster speeds to the town.

BT had set up its Race to Infinity campaign where people across the country voted for the introduction of the faster fibre optic broadband service in their area.

Mr Robinson admitted the response locally had been ‘rather lukewarm’ but said the recent survey proved the demand was there among businesses.

Dr Michael Huxley, outreach manager for The Hive, a project based on Hamilton Way which helps new firms get started, said slow speeds could be frustrating.

“If you are a website designer or graphic designer and uploading large things it can be very frustrating,” he said.

“When I first set up I was wasting five per cent of my time just waiting for things to download.”

Dr Huxley said many companies were having to operate with broadband speeds of less than 1mbps (megabit per second) when something like the BBC iPlayer requires 4mbps to operate smoothly.

He says there are plenty of internet providers operating in Mansfield, but there is a problem with the exchange because of the infrastructure.

“It is wired in aluminium rather than copper which means you can’t have higher speeds,” he said.

Other parts of the country, including notably Sunderland and Bristol, are jumping ahead with superfast broadband but Dr Huxley says Mansfield is not on any current list of where it will be rolled out by BT.

“We need to find out what these places are doing right and use their example in Mansfield,” he said.

According to BT’s website, nearby towns including Chesterfield, Worksop and Ripley, as well as villages like Blidworth, have exchanges which are now ready for BT Infinity.

Dr Huxley says rural areas are benefiting from £500m of Government cash, but Mansfield is considered an urban area which should already have the required infrastructure.

Mansfield mayor Tony Egginton said it was extremely important to have the fastest possible broadband - for existing businesses and also to attract more inward investment.

A spokesman from BT said no company was doing more to ‘make broadband Britain a reality’.

“BT has committed £2.5bn to roll-out super-fast broadband to two-thirds of the UK by the end 2014 and there are regular announcements of new locations as we progress with this work,” he said.

“BT has already announced plans to bring super-fast broadband to more than 700,000 home and businesses in the East Midlands and we will be announcing further locations in the near future.”