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Superfast Broadband

Volume 574: debated on Thursday 30 January 2014

1. What funding her Department is making available to ensure the final 10% of premises get access to superfast broadband. (902283)

5. What funding her Department is making available to ensure the final 10% of premises get access to superfast broadband. (902287)

The Government have committed a further £250 million to extend superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises by 2017. In addition, we are investing £10 million to find ways to provide superfast broadband to the hardest-to-reach and remotest premises.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s answer. Many homes and businesses are indeed benefiting from superfast broadband, but important local employers are not, such as the Nare hotel on the beautiful but remote Roseland peninsula. What further assurances can she give such businesses on how they can expect to receive superfast broadband?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in this. I think she will be pleased that the existing £132 million Superfast Cornwall project is already delivering superfast broadband to 82% of homes in her area, and there will be further opportunities to extend coverage with the additional £250 million that we have announced. Projects in her area will clearly be eligible to bid for such funding.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for those assurances. In my constituency of High Peak, which is very rural, many farms and businesses are in the last 10%. They have many other below-spec utilities, such as poor electricity supplies, and it is crucial they get good quality, fast broadband. It is as important for the last 10% as it is for the first 10%.

As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, the Government are already investing more than £7 million in superfast broadband in Derbyshire, and the additional money that we have pledged—£250 million—will give further coverage in his area, but it will be up to the local authority to ensure that it is targeted in the right way. I am sure he will work with the local authority to ensure that that is done well.

More than a third of all new properties benefiting from superfast broadband are in Wales. Will the Secretary of State applaud the Welsh Assembly Government for their success in that area, and what does she think she can learn from Wales for England?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing up the situation in Wales. Of course, the coalition Government are proud to have ensured that that funding was in place to make that happen for the people of Wales. As he will know, if it was up to the Labour party, all that the people of Wales would be receiving by now is 2 megabits, which would absolutely not have been right for businesses in his area.

There appear to be a large number of businesses and houses in my constituency, right in the centre of Edinburgh, that will not get superfast broadband in the foreseeable future. I have been in touch with the right hon. Lady’s Department, the Scottish Government, the council and BT, but nobody seems to be able to offer any hope that we will get superfast broadband. What is she going to do about it?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, it is important for the Scottish Government to address such issues. I was pleased to see BT pledge only this week to put an extra £50 million into exactly the sorts of areas he is talking about—city-centre areas where that is currently not commercially viable. I welcome that extra investment from BT.

18. While I obviously welcome progress on rural broadband, certain parts of my constituency, including the Lenches and Abbots Morton, are really struggling. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and key stakeholders in those areas to try to find some solutions? (902302)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have to keep up the pressure to ensure that we have superfast broadband where it is needed for all the different groups that can benefit. Either I or the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), would be delighted to meet her and her constituents, because we want to ensure, working with those providing this vital infrastructure service, that it is getting to the right people in a speedy manner.

The Secretary of State knows that 5 million people in rural areas still do not have broadband connection. Really, she must admit that the £10 million is just a stop—a sop, I mean—to divert attention from the devastating Public Accounts Committee report. Can she guarantee that the £250 million she mentioned will not all go to one provider, and can she explain how it is good value for money to pay £52 for a connection in a rural area but £3,000 for a connection in a super-connected city?

I am not sure that the shadow Minister had a total grasp of her question. Perhaps she needs to catch up with some of her councillors on the ground who have a better grasp than she does. I am particularly thinking of County Councillor Sean Serridge, a champion for digital inclusion in Lancashire—one of her councillors, I think—who has said that the work we are doing in his area

“is a great achievement and shows that we are well on the way to achieving our goal of providing 97 per cent of the county with superfast broadband by the end of next year.”

The difference between the hon. Lady and me is that we are getting on with it, while she is just still talking about it.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) is clearly in a very jolly mood, and I hope that it is contagious.

We are all very jolly in Cumbria that 93% of our homes will be connected to superfast broadband by this time next year. The fact that 7% will not be and will have a minimum of 2 megabits per second download speed should trouble us, particularly when we realise that that means an upload speed of only 0.2 megabits per second, which causes serious problems for businesses in areas that are not connected. What can my right hon. Friend do to guarantee that the 7% of businesses and residences that do not have superfast broadband are helped?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. That is why we have put in place a £10 million fund to look at how we can get to hard-to-reach places with new technology and new ways of doing things. He is right that superfast broadband is one of the most important infrastructure projects that this Government are putting in place. We are doing the hard work that the Labour party did not do when they were in government. The results speak for themselves: coverage in the UK is higher than in Germany, France, Italy and Spain and, what is more, our broadband lines are cheaper as well.