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Internet Connections: Rural Communities

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 18 November 2021

Thanks to the work of the industry and record Government investment, we are making phenomenal progress to deliver the biggest broadband roll-out in UK history, and also tackling the digital divide between rural and urban areas. Some 60% of UK homes and businesses can now access gigabit-capable speeds, and over 97% can access superfast broadband. But there is much more to do, and I recently updated the House on our Project Gigabit delivery plan to target early coverage of those without superfast.

I still have constituents in North Devon who are not part of either the rural roll-out programme backed by Building Digital UK or any commercial roll-out. However, some villages with commercial gigabit-capable fibre are being over-fibred by taxpayer-funded BDUK contracts. Will my hon. Friend work with organisations such as Connecting Devon and Somerset to give them more powers to edit contracts so that taxpayers’ money is not used to over-fibre?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a formidable campaigner for her constituents in North Devon. I was glad to respond in more detail to some of her concerns in a debate we had last week. The telecoms market is thriving, as she knows, and there is a lot of movement on the ground. I assure her that officials in BDUK are working extremely closely with Connecting Devon and Somerset and local suppliers in Devon so that we can avoid over-build where possible. I am sure that we will be in touch very closely throughout this process to make sure that her constituents get what they need.

The digital divide between cities and valleys is getting wider in south Wales. Gigabit broadband is essential for our economy, yet it has barely begun in Blaenau Gwent and we are being left behind. Will the Minister prioritise working with the Welsh Government and Ofcom to deliver better internet so that levelling up is not just a hollow slogan?

I am very keen to work with the Welsh Government, in so far as I can be helpful, with their roll-out. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of tackling the digital divide. This is going to be a real issue. We are very cognisant of it and looking to do all we can to make sure that there is not that disparity between those with great internet access and those who do not have it.