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Superfast Broadband

Volume 593: debated on Thursday 26 February 2015

3. For what proportion of parliamentary constituencies the 95% target for the roll-out of superfast broadband will be reached by 2017. (907741)

Ninety-five per cent. of the UK will have access to superfast broadband by 2017. I have placed our estimate of coverage by constituency in the House of Commons Library.

I can tell the Secretary of State that thousands of people in my constituency, one of the most urban in Scotland, have no guarantee of getting superfast broadband by 2017 or any date after that. I have raised this with local government, the Scottish Government and the UK Government. I do not want to ascribe blame; I want to see some action so that the residents who have contacted me again and again, such as the ones in Western Harbour, Leith who contacted me recently, will have some guarantee that they will get superfast broadband in their houses.

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the importance of superfast broadband both to residents and to businesses. Considerable progress has been made in his constituency in the past five years. Today, 87% of homes and businesses there have access to superfast broadband. That will rise to 98% by 2017, and that is better than the national target of 95% by that time. However, I hear what he says, and he is right to mention the importance of the issue.

The villages of Affetside and Holcombe in my constituency will not be covered by the roll-out of superfast broadband in phases 1 or 2, so when villagers ask me when they will be covered, what should I tell them?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. He should tell those villagers that the Government have an active programme to reach the most remote areas with superfast broadband. He will be interested to know that in the middle of last year we undertook a pilot, with seven projects using mostly wireless and other types of hybrid technology. We are now having a good look at the results of that pilot, and I shall be able to make a further announcement shortly.

Businesses in my constituency, from farmers in Carrington to multi-million pound exporters on Trafford Park, complain that they are still waiting for superfast broadband. They are paying 10 times the price for one fifth of the speed, with a damaging effect on their business. These are not remote rural areas; they are a stone’s throw from Manchester city centre. Can the Secretary of State explain why they are waiting so long for the basic support that their businesses need?

There has been a significant improvement in superfast broadband access over the past five years. Coverage throughout the UK has doubled from 40% to 80%. We have the best coverage among large EU nations and the highest average speeds, as well as the lowest average prices in Europe, but we can still do better. In urban areas, it is difficult, if not sometimes impossible, for the Government to provide a subsidy, as they do in non-commercial areas, but I am looking actively at what more we can do in urban areas.

The experience of my constituents this winter is that it is too easy for BT to declare MBORC—matters beyond our reasonable control—and then to take months to repair faults, or not turn up for appointments. Will the Secretary of State examine BT’s licensing conditions with a view to tightening up the rules so that it cannot just use the MBORC cop-out?

This important issue has been raised several times, and Ofcom frequently looks at the role of organisations such as BT to ensure that the market is as competitive as possible. However, I will take a closer look at the situation in my hon. Friend’s area.

14. I have been working with the Altrincham and Sale chamber of commerce, which tells me that it is vital that businesses club together to ensure that communication nodes go to more remote parts, even in urban areas. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that businesses co-operate to ensure that they can get the broadband they need? (907755)

I do agree with the hon. Gentleman. He will know that we offer vouchers for businesses in more than 22 cities under the superconnected cities programme, of which more than 10,000 companies have taken advantage. Many of the companies have clubbed together and I encourage others to do so.

Villages in the borough of Kettering on the Northamptonshire-Leicestershire border—right in the middle of England—will be among the last to get broadband, at the end of 2017, yet innovative cross-border thinking involving BT exchanges on the other side of the county boundary might bring about a quicker solution. Will the Secretary of State encourage such an innovative approach?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who has taken a strong interest in this matter. I have heard him speak in the House on behalf of his constituents on a number of occasions, and once again he comes up with an excellent idea, which we shall follow up.

The Government’s own figures show that Somerset’s rate of access to superfast broadband is only 41%, which hardly meets the needs of rural businesses and residents. Connecting Devon and Somerset allows bids from other suppliers in the Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks, but I understand that, because of the reason of screening of information, only BT, as a monopoly supplier, will be able to bid for the second phase. I have written to the Competition and Markets Authority; will the Secretary of State do the same and investigate exactly what has happened?

As my hon. Friend raises a specific issue, I will have to take a closer look at it. I am glad that she has written to the Competition and Markets Authority, but if this is a competition issue, it should be dealt with by the independent regulator. However, if there is more that she thinks I can do, I shall take a closer look.