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Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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If she will make a statement on her strategy for enabling residential customers to benefit from the provision of broadband internet access in publicly-funded organisations. [123228]

The public services between them expect to invest £1 billion in broadband connectivity over the next three years. Our intention is to aggregate demand to maximise the chance to extend broadband availability to users outside the public services, as well as to obtain the best value for the public services themselves.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but will he be more precise on timing and process? A school in the village where I happen to live will get wireless broadband because it is too far away from the BT exchange. Lots of people live near the school, and they are asking me when they can benefit from the school's broadband. The Minister has set up a task group and is spending £1 billion, but when and how?

I am delighted to hear that broadband is being extended to the hon. Gentleman's local school. Every school in the country—primary and secondary— will benefit from broadband over the next three years. I am not able to tell him precisely when the service will be extended to others in his local community, but he makes a very important point. Of course, particularly with wireless broadband, once that facility is available to the school I can see no reason why others should not benefit from it as well. In fact, there are examples of schools around the country that have become the hub for community-based wireless broadband services, and I very much welcome that development.

Can the Minister help with villages in my constituency that are also bereft of schools, and in which broadband provision is therefore an important way of helping them to retain liveliness? Can he give us some hope that we will be able to help specifically the very remote areas that many of us represent?

Yes, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the importance of that. We can be optimistic about the prospects. He will know that the East of England Development Agency has been active in supporting broadband, and a number of rural communities in Suffolk and elsewhere in the east of England are benefiting as a result. We recently completed successfully an auction of wireless spectrum, which will be available for wireless broadband, and I expect that that will be advantageous to rural communities, too. We can therefore be hopeful about the prospects in the months ahead.