Skip to main content

Gigabit Broadband

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 18 March 2021

Since 2019, gigabit-capable broadband coverage has risen from 10% to now well over 30%, but with the publication this morning of Ofcom’s market review, the way is paved for the Government to lay out their thinking in much greater detail. We will be publishing Project Gigabit very soon to explain where we will be taking the best broadband connections first and how we will tackle the hardest-to-reach premises as well.

I thank the Minister—my county colleague, as the Member for Boston and Skegness—for that response and look forward to a Government announcement in the near future. We have all become more reliant on our broadband connectivity in recent months, and I look forward to the full—and it needs to be full—roll-out of gigabit broadband. I represent two district areas. City of Lincoln Council has 99.4% superfast connectivity, but North Kesteven District Council, where I represent Skellingthorpe, Bracebridge Heath and Waddington East, has only 95.3% superfast broadband, with 2.74% of households receiving less than 10 megabits per second. How will my hon. Friend ensure that the roll-out of gigabit broadband benefits all those in rural areas, including across Lincolnshire, where BT took vast amounts of easy taxpayer money but has not delivered fibre connections or access for all by a long way?

I know just how keen my hon. Friend is to tackle broadband roll-out in the rural parts of his constituency as well as in the urban. As I mentioned, Project Gigabit will lay out a nationwide plan and it will do so in a way that promotes competition so that we get the best that the whole of the market can offer, including Openreach, but also other providers.

Our Parliament, our businesses, our students, our economy and our social lives all depend on broadband. In 2019, the Prime Minister promised full fibre for all by 2025, and the 2020 Budget set aside £5 billion for that. Can the Minister confirm that only £1.2 billion of that £5 billion is planned to be spent by 2025, and that today’s decision by Ofcom to remove pricing controls will deliver greater profits for BT while allowing Openreach to charge more in rural areas that are already broadband-poorer? When will the country as a whole get the broadband infrastructure we so desperately need?

The hon. Lady knows that the Government will spend the £5 billion that has been committed as soon as possible and as quickly as the industry can get the cable into the ground. She also knows that the important balance to strike is between a competitive market that makes sure that we get everyone, from Openreach to Gigaclear to CityFibre, involved, and ensuring that those businesses can make a fair return. That is the balance that Ofcom has sought to strike today.

With the publication of Ofcom’s broadband review, does the Minister agree that the time has come to respond more fully to the key recommendations of the DCMS Select Committee report in relation to broadband roll-out, as it seems clear that the Government are set to miss their revised targets? Will he commit to give the Committee its full answers by 1 April? In addition, is the £5 billion sum for Project Gigabit reported in today’s Daily Telegraph just a repackaged announcement, or is the £5 billion now guaranteed from the Treasury?

The Ofcom report, as I say, strikes a balance between trying to get competition and trying to get a fair return. I think that is a reasonable approach. It is of course important that we lay out the plans in response to the Select Committee’s questions. Project Gigabit will, in due course, do an awful lot of that work. I look forward to responding in full to the Committee’s questions, perhaps even appearing in front of it once again.