Have your say in the great digital debate

PEOPLE in Huntingdonshire can influence the Government s policy on their broadband and mobile phone provision – in a unique digital debate next week. It is believed to be the first time the communications regulator Ofcom has listened directly to the pub

PEOPLE in Huntingdonshire can influence the Government's policy on their broadband and mobile phone provision - in a unique "digital debate" next week.

It is believed to be the first time the communications regulator Ofcom has listened directly to the public.

As many as 300 people could be at the event, at the Burgess Hall, in St Ives, on Friday afternoon, October 10. The venue has changed from the Cambridge Golf and Conference Centre, at Hemingford Abbotts, to provide more room.

Organised jointly by Ofcom, Huntingdonshire District Council and the Huntingdonshire Business Network, The Great Digital Debate will take people's views on mobile phone coverage and quality, broadband internet access and speed.

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Broadband varies from place to place. In Waresley, residents get internet access at just one megabyte per second, compared with seven MB/s in nearby Gransden, according to one respondent to HDC's pre-debate questionnaire.

"Our local economy, and ability to support both business growth and our citizens, depends on access to the information age via the digital highway," the debate organisers said.

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"We in rural communities often have little or no choice about what digital technologies we have, and in some areas no service at all. Meanwhile, metropolitan areas are well provided for with a choice of suppliers.

"Businesses cannot compete effectively if they are not connected and citizens are increasingly isolated if they are unable to use the internet.

"We are being encouraged by all service providers to communicate with them via the internet. If Huntingdonshire does not have good-quality high-speed digital access, then we are restricting our ability to attract and retain companies for who provide jobs."

Sue Bedlow, HDC's senior sustainable economic development officer, told The Hunts Post this week: "One of the problems is that we don't know where we are with broadband or mobile coverage. We want to get a better handle on that, so that we get the best possible infrastructure and spread the benefits of economic growth to the further reaches of the district."

She said that with Huntingdonshire's economy overwhelmingly dominated by small businesses, many of them in the rural areas in which half the district's population lives, good telecommunications links were vital.

Ms Bedlow added: "As far as I am aware, Ofcom has never engaged in this type of consultation with the consumer. It's a unique opportunity for business and residents to have their ear. It's our chance to feed directly into Ofcom and therefore central government."

INFORMATION: Places need to be booked. E-mail Sue Bedlow on sue.bedlow@huntsdc.gov.uk or telephone her on 01480 387096 or Trish Bradbury on 01480 388443. The Burgess Hall is next to St Ivo Indoor Leisure Centre, in Westwood Road, St Ives, on Friday October 10 from 1pm until 4pm. To book a place

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