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Superfast Broadband

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 22 March 2018

4. What recent assessment he has made of his Department’s progress towards meeting the universal service obligation on superfast broadband coverage. (904524)

Superfast broadband is now available to 95% of UK premises, and roll-out will continue to extend coverage to as much of the remaining 5% as possible. By 2020, the universal service obligation will give everyone the legal right to high-speed broadband of at least 10 megabits per second.

My constituency consists of some small rural villages that, despite being relatively close to London, do not have good internet access. What can be done to help them?

The Government are taking a range of measures to help my hon. Friend’s villages. The Better Broadband scheme is available right now to anyone who cannot access speeds above 2 megabits per second. In the longer term, our universal service obligation will give everyone a right to broadband speeds of 10 megabits per second or higher by 2020.

Despite the funding that has been poured into securing superfast broadband in Northern Ireland, many people in my constituency have been left literally feet away from having a connection installed. What has been done to ensure that rural broadband is actually rural and gets to the villages and rural communities?

Once we have an Administration in Northern Ireland, there are many plans that we want to implement. We have changed the national planning policy framework and, working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we have rural development programme funding. There is also the £67 million nationwide gigabit broadband voucher scheme, which is available to small and medium-sized enterprises and local communities.

Unlike the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), Wellingborough is largely urban. There is a modern housing estate in the middle of the town where 75 people do not have broadband, and there is a small part of a big industrial area that also does not have broadband. I am fed up with the Government’s warm words, so when are they going to do something about Openreach and tell it to connect those people?

I heartily endorse my hon. Friend’s sentiments. The changes that we have made to the national planning policy framework propose that local authorities should now prioritise full-fibre connections to all existing and new developments.

Aberdeenshire is currently the only area in Scotland that has been chosen for the Department’s pilot scheme to roll out 1 gigabit per second connections. Will the Minister consider extending that to East Lothian, which more accurately reflects the roll-out problems across both Scotland and the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that we are developing the pilot into a national scheme, and the local full fibre networks programme will have another wave of offers later in the summer. I congratulate the area of Scotland that managed to win in the first round.

Does the Minister agree that those in receipt of public funds to roll out broadband to our hardest-to-reach areas, such as Openreach, should use a combination of the best available technologies, including fixed wireless, to provide those solutions?

I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, the USO that we will introduce by 2020 will enable faster speeds to be delivered by both fixed line and wireless technologies.