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House of Commons Hansard
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01 May 2014
Volume 579
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1. What progress has been made on the delivery of broadband in rural areas; and if he will make a statement. [903803]

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The Government’s broadband programme will increase superfast broadband coverage to 95% of UK premises by 2017. The programme has already delivered superfast broadband to more than 500,000 premises. A further 20,000 premises are gaining availability per week and that number is set to rise to 40,000 per week by the summer.

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Who would have thought just a month ago, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) and I were sharing a drink at Birmingham City university, that he would be where he is now? I congratulate him on his appointment on behalf, I am sure, of both sides of the House.

My right hon. Friend talks about superfast broadband and there has been huge progress, but I am afraid that there are still large areas of the country where there is no broadband at all—the not spots. When will broadband coverage be as universal as electricity supplies?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that warm welcome. I remember that drink well. He mentioned my constituency of Bromsgrove. Like his constituency, it is semi-rural and there is naturally concern among my constituents about broadband coverage. He will therefore be pleased to know that the Government are providing £780 million of central funding to support superfast broadband, so that 95% of UK premises can enjoy it by 2017. We have also launched a £10 million fund to explore with suppliers broadband solutions for the other 5%.

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I begin by congratulating the Secretary of State on his appointment. We hope that he enjoys the next year in his job. This might be the first time that he has answered questions on broadband roll-out, but so great is the concern across the House that this is the 494th time that such questions have been asked. This week, we learned that no one in Oxfordshire has applied for the vouchers under the lacklustre £150-million super-connected cities programme. Why does he not adopt our proposal of switching half of those funds into helping the 15 million people who are digitally excluded?

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Again, I thank the hon. Lady for her warm welcome. We looked at the previous Government’s proposals. The reason we changed the policy was that, frankly, it was not working. Already under this Government, superfast broadband coverage has risen from about 45% when we came to office to 73%. The UK has better coverage than the other EU5 countries. I hope that she will join us in implementing these policies.

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16. The broadband programme in Suffolk is going rather well, but to reach the 95% figure and cover places such as Wangford and Yoxford, we need a bit more money from the Government. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) will welcome our representations. [903821]

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My hon. Friend is passionate about this issue and has brought it up a number of times. I would be happy to meet her to discuss it further and to see how we can better use the existing resources that are available.

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12. Although the roll-out of broadband to rural areas is going at some pace, it is going rather slowly in parts of rural Wales. I wonder whether the Secretary of State is happy with the manner in which the Welsh Assembly is doing this and whether it is meeting his expectations for the whole of the UK. [903817]

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My hon. Friend makes his point well. Well over 100,000 premises in Wales have been connected to superfast broadband under this Government, but obviously there is a need to do more. I am keen to consider ways in which we can make the process quicker.

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I also welcome the Secretary of State to his new post.

The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), was in my constituency a couple of weeks ago and may have heard one or two things from my constituents about the hard-to-reach rural areas where broadband will be difficult to install. Will he look again at the requirement for match funding for very rural areas? Quite simply it will not work, by definition, in areas where there are very few people.

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I can tell my hon. Friend that the rural broadband programme is making good progress. I accept that it is patchy in certain parts of the country, but a number of projects have gone live as the roll-out has begun. I will examine the issue that he raises, but the current evidence shows the rate of connectivity rising and suggests that the match funding programme is progressing well.

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9. We are grateful for the Government funding for superfast broadband in North Yorkshire, and we are well on the way to getting high penetration across the country. One way in which we can reach our most remote areas is through technology, and BT has a new, smaller fibre box, but it needs special regulatory approval. What can the Secretary of State do to help us move that process on so that we can deliver to our most remote areas? [903813]

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My hon. Friend rightly highlights the significant role that BT plays as a huge stakeholder in rolling out superfast broadband around the country. I have already had a meeting with BT in my new role, and I look forward to having further meetings to see how the process can be taken forward.