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Broadband

Volume 558: debated on Thursday 14 February 2013

We are investing some £680 million in urban and rural broadband. Taking into account local authority funding and private sector investment, more than £1 billion is going towards rolling out broadband.

I pay tribute to the Minister and the Government for prioritising the roll-out of broadband and for the significant sums of public money they have committed to it. Openreach has been successful in many of the contracts for extending broadband provision, but its modelling can be inaccurate. Some of my constituents have switched to fibre-to-the-cabinet, but they do not get speeds anywhere near the original commitments. Given those inaccurate models, is the Minister confident that some of the providers will not come back for further public money?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the assiduous work he does for his constituents. The average speed in Wales has gone up from some 7.5 megabits to 12 megabits. We are investing almost £57 million in rolling out broadband. I note what he says about speed. It is important that customers understand the speeds they will be getting.

12. Several organisations, including those involved in the delivery of the project, have said that the Government will not meet the target of 90% of households having access to superfast broadband by 2015. What does the Minister have to say to the 2.6 million households that will have to wait between three and five years extra to access basic broadband? (143160)

I say to the country as a whole that BT is undertaking the most ambitious roll-out of broadband almost anywhere in the world. We have the most ambitious rural broadband programme of any country in Europe and we are set on delivering superfast broadband to the vast majority of people in this country, which is a world-beating internet nation.

I pay tribute to the Government’s determination to roll out broadband, particularly in rural areas, including national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. However, some of the provisions in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill would remove protections that such areas have enjoyed for 60 years. Is it necessary to put in jeopardy those areas in order to achieve rural broadband roll-out?

It is absolutely essential that we strike a balance between protecting our rural environment and removing some of the obstacles that have slowed the roll-out of broadband, so that it can be laid more quickly, more cheaply and more efficiently. It is important to strike a balance and I note what the hon. Gentleman has said.

The House knows by now that it was Labour’s policy to roll out broadband across the nation by 2012. The Government put the target back to 2015 and BT now says that it will not be achieved until 2017. What will be the impact of the Prime Minister’s decision to agree the 90% cut in the European broadband budget last week?

We would not expect that to have any impact on our own proposals. We are well ahead of the game in rolling out superfast broadband. Most of Europe—in fact, all of Europe—sees us as a leader in that respect. I am delighted that we did not introduce Labour’s telephone tax on hard-working people. Instead, we are delivering superfast broadband to the vast majority of people in this country.

18. Rural villages in my constituency, including White Notley and Birch, are desperate to have the same standard of broadband as the urban centres in my constituency. Will the Minister guarantee that every possible effort will be undertaken to secure private and public investment to get the right levels of connections across my constituency? (143166)

I can absolutely guarantee that I will make every effort to do that, particularly because my hon. Friend’s constituents are so ably represented. I know that she will continue to hold me to account.