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Superfast Broadband

Volume 583: debated on Thursday 3 July 2014

The Government’s broadband programme will provide superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises by 2017. In February 2014 we announced nearly £3 million in further grant funding to support superfast coverage in Cornwall.

One of my constituents who runs a small business in a not-spot area purchased satellite broadband after being told that they would not get a fibre-optic connection. Can they now bid for some money if Cornwall council is successful to enable other connections, and will it cost people more for any other type of connection?

Superfast Cornwall has a satellite broadband offer for premises that currently have slow-speed broadband and are not likely to gain a fibre-optic connection. The grant of almost £3 million that the Government gave in February in phase 2 will help increase coverage. My hon. Friend’s constituent can make an application to Superfast Cornwall, and that will be a decision for it to make. We are making progress on the issue, but I agree that there is much more to do.

10. Finland and Sweden will cover about 99% of their populations with 4G networks capable of delivering high-speed broadband, but the UK’s model of coverage with 2G and 3G has failed many people in rural and island areas. Will the Secretary of State consider a different approach to 4G for rural areas, including mast-sharing and controls on rents at mast sites, especially as 4G will deliver up to 30 megabits and might wirelessly reach areas that cable broadband might not reach? (904626)

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that there has been a significant increase in superfast broadband coverage since 2010, rising from 45% to 73%, but there is much more to do. There has also been a significant change in 4G coverage in the UK, which many people use for broadband, as he rightly highlights. For example, O2, which has a licence for 4G, is committed to extending it to 99% of the country.

Order. I do not know why this question was not grouped, but I will treat it as though it had been. Mr Stephen Metcalfe.

7. Linford and parts of East Tilbury and West Tilbury in my constituency fall between the Tilbury and Stanford-le-Hope exchanges, which means that a small but significant community will not benefit from either the commercial roll-out of superfast broadband or the Government-funded programme. What options do I have to ensure that those residents are not disadvantaged by a geographic anomaly? (904623)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the Government have announced additional funding of £10.72 million for Essex under phase 2 of our superfast broadband programme. The local project team for Essex should be able to advise him on the revised coverage targets. The Government have also announced eight market testing pilots to explore supply solutions for improving broadband coverage beyond 95%.

The analyst, Redburn, has pointed out that claims that the UK is doing well on superfast broadband are

“only true using a rather unambitious definition of superfast”.

A number of European countries now have over 20% fibre- to-the-home penetration, with symmetric 100 megabits- per-second services. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), told me in a written answer on 23 June that he does not know how much of that we have in the UK, but the industry estimates penetration to be about 0.5%. Surely we need to be doing much better.

The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that superfast coverage in the UK is the highest among the EU5 countries; it is higher than Germany, higher than Spain, five times higher than Italy and three times higher than France.

I was pleased when the Government announced the awarding of the contract to look into ways of using satellite to bring superfast broadband to remote areas of Scotland that fibre-optic cables cannot reach. It is very important that that work is done as soon as possible. What time scale does the Minister envisage for bringing superfast broadband to remote areas of the highlands and islands by satellite?

These pilots began in June, so they are very recent and it will take a number of months before any results are known. We have deliberately picked a number of different companies with different types of technology to ensure that we learn as much as we can. I envisage that we will have more information in six months.