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Broadband and Mobile Phone Coverage: Rural Areas

Volume 653: debated on Thursday 31 January 2019

The Government have invested £1.8 billion of public money to ensure that more than 95% of premises in the UK have access to superfast broadband. UK broadband operates voucher schemes, and we are introducing a universal service obligation that will give everyone the right to a minimum speed of 10 megabits per second. These interventions are designed especially to help people in rural areas.

A number of Eddisbury residents have been denied superfast broadband because Openreach refused to connect them to their nearest cabinet as, for historical reasons, they are connected to one many miles away. What can the Minister do to ensure that common sense applies?

I understand the frustration of Eddisbury residents. Wherever possible, Openreach network planners seek to ensure that customers are connected to the nearest cabinet, but this is not always possible. Businesses and communities may apply for a voucher through one of our schemes to contribute towards the cost of reconnecting to a closer cabinet. I would be happy to facilitate a meeting between my hon. Friend and officials in my Department to establish the best way forward for Eddisbury residents.

With more and more business being carried out online, superfast broadband connections are vital. What progress has been made on rolling out this technology so that rural businesses, in particular, can thrive?

The Government are investing £67 million in the gigabit broadband voucher scheme, which provides small and medium-sized enterprises with vouchers worth up to £2,500. We are focusing on rolling out full fibre where there is a strong case for public investment. Our strategy is to prioritise rural areas.

Will the Minister answer the second part of the question tabled by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), which was about mobile phone signals? What are the Government doing about that? Large swathes of my constituency in south Wales still do not have basic mobile phone access—some of them do not have 3G access, never mind 4G. The Government really must start resolving mobile phone signal issues.

I can answer the hon. Gentleman’s question by referring to the new spectrum auction, which is taking place this year, on which Ofcom is consulting. Ofcom’s duty is to manage the use of spectrum efficiently, and we expect it to deliver on our manifesto commitment to provide 95% of the country, geographically, with signal.

Will the Minister have a word with the planning Minister to make sure that when there is a new development in a rural area, it does not cause the existing IT capability to deteriorate?

Our Department’s priority is to make sure that new-build properties and developments are all built with full fibre, wherever possible. If I have not answered the rest of the hon. Gentleman’s question with regard to the impact on the rest of the technology, I would be happy to write to him.