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High-Speed Broadband

Volume 499: debated on Thursday 12 November 2009

2. What steps he plans to take to provide support for development of high-speed broadband networks. (299490)

11. What steps he plans to take to provide support for development of high-speed broadband networks. (299500)

The “Digital Britain” White Paper, published on 16 June, outlined the Government’s plans for a next-generation fund, which will help to deliver at least 90 per cent. coverage of next-generation broadband for homes and businesses by 2017. The fund will be created through a levy of 50p per month on all fixed telecommunication lines.

The distinguished Government adviser Professor Andrew Cave has said that the wrong sort of regulation will deter private investment. Charles Dunstone of TalkTalk has said that the telephone tax will delay it. Why is the Minister introducing a telephone tax, and a wireless broadband tax of £100 a year that will hit our small businesses?

I am surprised and disappointed that the Opposition are setting their face against a policy that will extend broadband to rural communities and create an inclusive broadband system. The Government have a firm and decisive position, and I would be very interested to hear what alternative proposals the Opposition have for delivering broadband to the rest of the country.

Other countries are laying fibre-optic cable to thousands of homes, so why have UK operators barely started to think about doing so? BT, protected by its monopoly over the local loop, appears to be making minimal investment. If we are to get a universal 2 megabit broadband connection by 2012, are the Government not going to have to raise their game in a serious way?

With respect, the Government have set out clear policies to intervene, where appropriate, to take the market position forward. Of course, a great deal of investment must be made by the private sector to take forward the extension of broadband across the UK, but the Government must also play their part. We are doing that by making it very clear indeed that we will support the development of broadband so that we have an inclusive broadband system in the UK.

How acceptable is it that a village like Hilton in my constituency, which has a population of nearly 4,000, should have a speed that is too low to enable people to carry out any normal domestic activities? Its thriving business sector also struggles with a speed that is unacceptable. Is it not correct to take a tougher regulatory line with BT?

Of course, it is not acceptable that individuals and businesses are excluded from access to broadband. It means that they cannot develop as they would like. For that reason, the Government have set out a clear policy and are determined to act to extend broadband coverage across the country.

Internet service providers will lose income from people who are cut off as a result of allegations of illicit file-sharing, yet the figures used by my hon. Friend’s Department to assess the scale of internet piracy are provided by the music industry and are based on a poor sample—fewer than 200—and have been soundly ridiculed by the BBC. Will he give me a guarantee that he will review those figures?

It is extremely important that we recognise the huge impact that illegal file-sharing is having on creative industries, such as the music and film industries, in which we excel in the UK. Any suggestion of removing access from individuals would be very much a last resort, but there is a real issue that we need to confront and deal with, and we shall look closely at the available solutions.

Will the Minister accept that the way we shall get the private sector to create a really competitive market in the roll-out of broadband is by allowing different digital platforms access to content, particularly of BSkyB’s premium programmes? What is he doing to make sure that Ofcom creates that wide competitive programme, rather than simply giving in to Murdoch?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Labour Members never like giving in to Murdoch and we are, therefore, very keen indeed to create and take forward a competitive business model. We are not in anyone’s pocket. We want to create a level playing field in the UK and we shall work with business to achieve it.