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Volume 583: debated on Thursday 3 July 2014

6. What comparative assessment he has made of the extent of broadband coverage in the UK and other EU member states. (904620)

As the House has already heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the UK’s broadband coverage is among the best in Europe: 73% of premises can access superfast broadband compared with just 45% in 2010. Government investment will drive superfast coverage up to 95% by 2017.

Sadly, rural areas will be left behind. I understand from NYnet that Thirsk, Malton and Filey will have only 78% coverage by 2015-16. Given that farmers will have to apply digitally for farm payments from 2015, they will be grossly disadvantaged. Will the Government please make it a top priority to ensure that those who have the weakest coverage will be fast-tracked to superfast broadband?

We certainly will. NYnet is one of our most effective programmes and I praise the county council for its effective work. We have already passed 120,000 premises under this programme. We will have reached 170,000 by next spring and we have allocated further millions to take coverage even further.

The EU is a very big area, but Bridle road in Stanfree in Bolsover is relatively small. They told me to ask the appropriate Minister to sort out the broadband that they have been messing about with for four years in that Bridle road, Stanfree area. They must have a letter—get it sorted.

After a question such as that, it beggars belief that the Labour party would not have such a man on its national executive committee. On this side of the House, when the hon. Gentleman speaks, we act.

I am tempted to just say to the Minister, “Somerset—get it sorted.” The good news is that two more communities in my constituency—Fivehead and Milborne Port—will be connected over the next few months, but there are a lot of villages in exactly the position described by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) that will not be connected. Does the Minister recognise how critical Somerset’s bid to the superfast extension fund is in filling in some of those gaps and getting broadband to the rural areas that desperately need it?

Yes, I do. The whole point of all the completely justified questions that have been asked is that people want broadband. That is why we are putting £1.2 billion into rolling out rural broadband and why total funding of something like £70 million from BT, European funding and Broadband Delivery UK is going into connecting Devon and Somerset. More than 250,000 premises are planned to be networked and we have allocated a provisional £22 million for the next phase.

This issue is not just a rural problem. At my recent business event, companies told me how lack of access to fast broadband is seriously hampering their businesses. How will the Minister ensure that areas on the edge of major urban centres also get superfast broadband?

The whole point of the rural broadband programme is to help the areas she speaks about. Local councils are in charge of the roll-out, so they should know best where the money should go first for the most impact. As I say, we have had phase 1 to get to 90%; we now have phase 2 to get to 95%; and the money we have allocated for new technologies will give us the figure we need to get to 100%.

In some cases, the only way to improve broadband speeds is to install a new cabinet. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the cost of such installation is within the scope of the Government’s assistance scheme?

My understanding is that, where appropriate, new cabinets can be installed under the scheme. Much of the scheme will be for funding the upgrade of existing cabinets, but occasionally it can be for a new cabinet.