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Rural Broadband and Mobile Coverage

Volume 643: debated on Thursday 21 June 2018

10. What steps his Department is taking to improve broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas. (905973)

We are clear on the continued need to improve broadband and mobile connectivity in rural areas. Broadband UK’s superfast programme has achieved 95% coverage, and continues to connect more rural premises. The broadband universal service obligation, implemented by 2020, will ensure that rural areas are not left behind.

How is the Minister ensuring that new housing developments are fully equipped with broadband during the construction phase?

We have an agreement with the Home Builders Federation that all new developments by members of that organisation will deliver full broadband to the premises as those developments progress. I regularly meet a barrier-busting taskforce to consider how we can build on that voluntary agreement—not all builders are members of the federation—so that all residents of new-build developments receive the full-fibre premises to which they should be entitled.

May I urge the Minister, when she is looking at mobile phone signals for rural communities, not to forget the south Wales valleys? The three and a half valleys that I represent, the Ogmore, Garw, Llynfi and Gilfach valleys, have massive problems with mobile phones signals, so please can she make sure she does not forget them?

The valleys in south Wales, like the great rural areas of Scotland, present challenges, but challenges that will be overcome. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that they are an absolute priority.

Will the Minister look at the productivity lag that the broadband and mobile notspots cause in our constituencies? Will the Department assess what could be achieved if we had greater broadband and mobile coverage in those areas?

I certainly will look at the issues my hon. Friend raises. I am very aware of these notspots. We are working constantly with Broadband UK and mobile operators to close them in the shortest possible time.

Ofcom’s figures show that 4G rollout across the whole of the UK is now at 52%, up from 38%. In Scotland, however, that figure is only 29%, up from 15%. When can we expect Scotland’s coverage to catch up with that in the rest of the country?

If we take coverage from at least one provider, we see that 50% of Scotland now has mobile coverage. I accept that that is obviously not enough, but that does provide coverage for indoor voice for at least 90% of Scottish premises. However, we still have a great deal more to do.