SINCE the pandemic struck, many of us have relied on the internet to work or learn from home.

In common with many rural areas, Torridge and West Devon’s gigabit broadband coverage, at seven per cent, is well behind the national figure of 27%. Better progress has been made with the availability of superfast broadband, which is now at 80%.

For many years, I have pressed to secure faster broadband throughout Torridge and West Devon. Whether through meetings and representations with and to BT, Openreach and Connecting Devon and Somerset, the local task force, meetings with Airband Community Internet Directors, or in discussions with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my focus has been on improving network services for our community.

So, I welcome that as part of the government’s Superfast Broadband programme, £490-million in new contracts will see superfast coverage expanded to almost 200,000 premises across the UK — including under-represented areas here in Devon.

I am particularly pleased that a special provision has been reintroduced for rural homes and businesses. Vouchers worth up to £3,500 are now being awarded to enable businesses and households to band together with Openreach to cover the cost of introducing gigabit broadband in areas struggling with slower, less advanced connectivity. This means that rural communities like ours will not always have to wait for government-approved supplier contracts, and that local businesses can remain connected and competitive in an increasingly internet-reliant landscape.

This comes as the government launches “Project Gigabit”, a new £5-billion infrastructure scheme seeking to make next generation gigabit broadband available to more than one million premises currently limited to slow, unreliable Internet.

I hope that increasing superfast broadband availability across Devon — as well as empowering local people to pursue the even faster gigabit alternative — will help Devon recover from the pandemic. The Internet has become essential for the growth of businesses and must be central to the government’s plan to level up and build back better in our communities.

To learn more about Gigabit Broadband Vouchers and check if you are eligible for one, you can visit the scheme’s official site here