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Subsidised Satellite Broadband Programme

Volume 604: debated on Thursday 21 January 2016

2. What recent progress his Department has made on the subsidised satellite broadband programme. (903141)

I am pleased to confirm that all those living in houses unable to get a speed of at least 2 megabits per second can now take advantage of a subsidised satellite broadband installation, which should deliver speeds of about 10 megabits per second or more.

Connecting Cumbria promised my constituents superfast broadband, but this has not happened quickly enough or to the original programme, which has denied my constituents access to vital services. What assurance can the Minister give that, under the universal service obligation, they will be provided with a minimum of 10 megabits per second by 2020?

I am pleased to say that the Cumbrian programme is going extremely well. About £20 million of Government money has been invested, and in the hon. Lady’s constituency we will reach 92% by the end of the programme, which is a fantastic result, considering that, commercially, less than half of her constituents would have got superfast broadband. We will soon be introducing a consultation on the universal service obligation, and we intend to proceed with haste.

This kind of option is very important in rural areas such as mine, where we have technology issues getting broadband to Longney and Elmore. We have done some good work with BT, but can the Minister guarantee that we will push ahead with all options to make sure everybody has access to broadband in my constituency?

Yes, I can guarantee that. We are moving as fast as we can to deliver superfast broadband, and we intend to reach 95% of the country by the end of 2017 and to have superfast broadband for everyone by 2020. We also have to think again about what we need to do in the decade after that.

In early December, the Minister cast himself as Santa Claus, announcing a “Christmas present” for UK homes and businesses: £60 million to provide satellite provision for those failed by his super-slow broadband crawl-out. As of Monday, a grand total of £8,000 had been spent and only 24 people had benefited from his supposed gift. Was it the fear of seeing him coming down their chimney that put people off or the fact that this is an inadequate stunt designed to fob off his Back Benchers and leaving millions digitally excluded for many Christmases to come?

I thank the hon. Lady for that “Bah Humbug” question. I am delighted that, thanks to our superfast broadband programme, we have reached around 90% of the country. We have cast aside the Scrooge-like 2 megabits target that Labour had for the country as a whole, but we promised everyone guaranteed speeds of 2 megabits, and that is what we have done by providing subsidised satellite services.

I am sure the Minister was busy at Christmas with rehearsals for the “Poldark” Christmas special. I welcome his announcement about enabling those in rural areas to get satellite broadband. This is a particular issue in Rossendale and Darwen where farmers struggle to get broadband. Will my hon. Friend undertake to work with the National Farmers Union and others who are in touch with those working in our rural industries to ensure that farmers find out about this fantastic offer the Minister made before Christmas?

I will certainly give that undertaking. I am happy to work with the NFU, just as I am happy to work with the landowners association and the Countryside Alliance.

Since a commitment was given in a Westminster Hall debate to expanding superfast broadband across Northern Ireland, I have been contacted by many constituents who have told me that they cannot increase their business—this is mainly small businesses and people who work from home—or start a business without it. What is the Minister doing exclusively to help people with small businesses in the rural community to advance this issue?

We had a very successful broadband voucher scheme, which brought superfast broadband to something like 55,000 businesses. That scheme has come to an end, but we always review what specific help we can give to businesses. The roll-out in Northern Ireland is now picking up pace, which will help both homeowners and businesses alike.