Superfast broadband is now available to over 90% of homes and businesses in the UK—up from 45% in 2010—and is on track to reach 95% by the end of 2017. After that, we are bringing in a universal service obligation in the Digital Economy Bill.
The Minister will be aware that rural communities such as those in North East Fife, and small businesses in particular, rely on broadband, and there are concerns that the current plans do not go far enough. Are there any plans to extend them further so that we can get faster speeds in rural communities?
Yes. The plan to bring in a universal service obligation means just that: it is about making sure that superfast broadband is available to all. If the SNP joined us in the Lobby to support the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently passing through its remaining stages in the other place, we would be very grateful.
Superfast broadband is available across much of Waveney, but not spots remain, particularly in rural areas. The roll-out of 5G could play an important role in plugging those gaps. I would be grateful if the Minister outlined his plans to fast-track this provision. Will he consider some pilots in the Waveney area?
My hon. Friend is a ceaseless champion of better connectivity in Lowestoft and throughout Suffolk. Connectivity is improving: there is a licence obligation to cover 90% of the UK landmass by the end of next year. I am sure he will keep fighting for his constituents to make sure that they get a better signal. The £1 billion announced in the autumn statement will help to get us there.
Access to broadband is an issue not just for rural areas, but for areas such as Dinnington village, which lies on the edge of my constituency, and for new-build housing areas such as Newcastle Great Park, where capacity simply cannot keep up with demand for this vital service. How will the Government speed up delivery to such areas?
The hon. Lady asks a very good question. By 1 January—less than one month away—it will be a legal requirement to put superfast broadband into new housing developments. By the end of the programme that is under way, 98% of Newcastle, which includes her constituency, will be covered for access to superfast broadband. I am sure she would want to welcome that.
Percentages do not mean much to people who do not have broadband, and we just do not have it in many parts of my constituency. This affects not only residents, but businesses, such as the caravan parks that people will not now come to unless there is broadband access. That is the problem.
My hon. Friend is dead right that that is a problem. The universal service obligation is very important in making sure that everybody gets decent access to broadband. In the past few years, that has changed from a “nice to have” to an absolute “must have”, and we are delivering to make sure people have the connectivity they need.