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special REPORT

q&a

Kirsty Styles
@kirstystyles1

THE MP TRYING
TO BEAT BT
AS MP FOR ISLINGTON SOUTH AND FINSBURY, EMILY THORNBERRY
HAS FOUND HERSELF REPRESENTING A GROWING GROUP OF
TECH FIRMS WHO ARE STRUGGLING TO GET ONLINE

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Q.

Why is the
connectivity question
a crucial one for your
constituents?
Central London, and Tech City in
particular, has the potential to be
a world class centre of innovation
and entrepreneurship. But there
are unique challenges that currently
face businesses, particularly small
businesses and startups, seeking
to establish a presence in the area.

ISSUE 6 • techcitynews.com

Connectivity is the key issue here,
and not just for business owners,
it’s something all of my constituents
have a stake in. Islington has one of
the highest levels of child poverty
of any area in the UK. We also
have higher than average levels of
youth unemployment as well, and
the high cost of living means that
access to secure, well-paid jobs
is essential. A thriving Tech City
brings investment and job growth

special REPORT
q&a

to the local area, and that’s good for
everyone I represent.
Q. What was BT’s response
to your intervention?
Were you surprised?
My interest in this issue began last
year when I was contacted by a group
of 38 local businesses who sent
me a petition calling for improved
broadband access. Initially, I assumed
that these were isolated cases and
that, once I brought them to BT’s
attention, they would soon iron out
any problems. But when I took a
sample case to BT, I was instead
told that they did not consider it
commercially viable to connect the
business in question to the green
cabinet directly outside its premises.
This was last summer, and though
I’ve taken similar cases to BT since
then, I’ve never had a positive reply.
Just this week I’ve been fobbed off
by BT on two cases. They expect one
company, with just 17 employees, to
pay more than £12,000 to install a
box for the entire block. In attempting
to justify this they claimed to have “a
limited budget”. BT made more than
£2bn in profits last year, and its CEO’s
annual pay packet exceeds £4m. So I
have been surprised by their response.
And outraged!
Q. As BT won’t play ball,
what alternatives are you
looking at?
In government, Labour pledged to
provide basic 2mbps broadband to
everyone by 2012, and we remain
committed to 100% coverage as a
goal. The Tories scrapped this target
and pushed it back by three years
to 2015. Well, here we are in 2015
and the target has been moved back
again, by another two and a half years.
The superfast rollout has become
a superslow rollout and Labour is
looking at a range of proposals to
break the logjam.
If elected this time, Labour will
apply pressure on big companies like
BT and Virgin Media to play their

part in extending quality broadband
access to Tech City businesses. In
addition to making more than £2bn
in profit last year, BT received £250m
in government subsidies to improve

“The superfast rollout
has become a superslow
rollout and Labour is
looking at a range of
proposals to break the
logjam”

access in rural areas. And yet they
expect small businesses in Tech City to
foot the bill for improving broadband
in central London. Government has a
bully pulpit here and the Tories aren’t
using it. There are other things we will
look at as well, like reviewing EU rules
on State funding and working with
the regulator Ofcom to unlock more
public and private sector funding for
improved broadband access.
Q. Does poor connectivity
make London less attractive
to startups?
The term ‘Tech City’ is relatively new
and it hasn’t really caught on yet – not
in the same way as, say, Silicon Valley.
One of the reasons for this has to be
the obstacle that poor connectivity
puts in the way of the businesses that
need high-speed connections the way
the rest of us need oxygen. I’ve spoken
about the example of Proudfoot TV,
a small film-making company in
Clerkenwell, whose owner told me his
connection was so unreliable that if he
wanted to send a 10 minute sound file
to Covent Garden, the quickest way
would be to upload it to a USB stick
and cycle it round!
Q. How would Labour embrace
new technology in government?
New technology should be at the

heart of our efforts to tackle problems
across a range of policy areas, from
transport to climate change. We would
seek to dramatically improve the
take up of STEM subjects in schools,
especially among girls and underrepresented ethnic minorities, so we
can prepare the next generation to
lead the way on innovation.
Recognising our universities
as powerhouses of the high tech
sector, we would give them greater
certainty with a long-term funding
plan for investment in science and
engineering. We have announced
plans to tackle climate change by
investing in low carbon technology
and creating a million green jobs by
2025, to improve transport services
by making sure our rail networks
embrace new technologies and are
exploring smart ticketing across all
forms of transport.
Q. Are MPs tech-savvy
enough to understand
digital issues?
There’s a stereotype that MPs are
all grey-haired old fuddy duddies in
suits, remote from the world outside
Westminster. I have no doubt that
there are some MPs who live up to
this, but the fact is that if you want to
do the job well, you have to embrace
new technologies.
The average constituency includes
about 70,000 people and to do the
job well you need to be responsive to
the needs of everyone you represent,
and if digital issues are an important
issue on a local level, as they are to
me, then it’s important that MPs
should understand them. Digital
and online media are also vital tools
for MPs to improve outreach to the
people we represent. When I tell
people on Twitter that I’m having
an advice surgery in the Town Hall,
where people can come and ask me
for help with any problems they have,
that reaches thousands of people who
otherwise might not know the full
extent of what MPs do and how we
can help them. 
ISSUE 6 • techcitynews.com

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