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Rural Broadband

Volume 631: debated on Thursday 16 November 2017

As we have heard, superfast broadband is now available to more than 94% of premises. In 2010, only 42.5% of homes in Windsor had superfast broadband access. Today, that number is just shy of 94%.

Windsor is a well-connected constituency —particularly given one notable resident—but we do have concerns that some rural and semi-rural areas may need further connectivity. In order to boost the creative, home education and home entertainment markets, does my right hon. Friend agree that developers and local authorities would do well to push on with ensuring that they deliver broadband infrastructure, such as ducting alongside the mains?

Windsor is not only well connected, but well represented. My hon. Friend’s point is that it is important that new developments get infrastructure and connectivity right from the start. We have agreed with the Home Builders Federation and major broadband providers that all new large developments of over 30 homes will get good connections, but we are also talking to the Department for Communities and Local Government to strengthen that requirement, because it is pretty absurd to build a new house without the ducting to take fibre all the way to it.

I wrote to the Treasury about its £200 million locally led infrastructure fund, but I was passed to the Minister, who passed me to the local authority. The local authority says that the criteria mean that people have to make bids that are too big for a rural area. Will the Minister please look again at that so that my constituents in Teesdale can get the broadband they need?

As it happens, I was in Teesside last week talking to local authorities from across the region. We designed the scheme to allow all local bodies of whatever size to bid—district and borough councils, county councils and larger metropolitan areas—so I look forward to engaging with the hon. Lady to ensure that that can be taken forward.

May I suggest that my right hon. Friend comes to the other end of Berkshire to look at what West Berkshire Council has done to try to get to the hardest to reach, particularly in rural areas? Only a fraction of the 72,480 homes do not have superfast broadband or will not have it in the next months. Instead of BT, the council is working with Gigaclear, which is a really effective delivery company.

West Berkshire is also extremely well represented, and testament to that is the fact that so much progress has been made on superfast broadband. I love the fact that there are now more and more different providers—not just Openreach and Virgin, but Gigaclear, Hyperoptic and others—that are working to get Britain connected.

I understand that the UK Government are likely to be taking up BT’s offer of a 10-megabits universal service obligation for the remaining 5% of premises, which is far behind the Scottish Government’s commitment of 30 megabits for 100%, so concerns have been raised about how the two will align. Will the Minister tell us whether he intends to discuss that with the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity before reaching a decision? Will he take up the suggestion of a UK-wide working group?

Yes, I saw my Scottish counterpart last week, and I am going to Scotland in a fortnight to discuss the matter. The problem in Scotland is that we delegated the funding to the Scottish Government, who have contracted more slowly than any English county or the Welsh Government. They need to get on with it.

Gigaclear is also coming into Devon and Somerset in competition with BT to deliver more superfast broadband. However, the percentage of hard-to-reach people is still big, so we really must concentrate on getting superfast broadband to them.

My hon. Friend is dead right. I pay tribute to the work that Devon County Council and Somerset County Council have done together to deliver into some very hard-to-reach rural areas. In contrast to the Scottish contracting, they have been getting contracts out the door in order to achieve connectivity as quickly as possible.