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Internet Access

Volume 708: debated on Thursday 10 February 2022

8. What steps she is taking to close the digital divide between people (a) with and (b) without access to the internet. (905561)

Access to the internet is increasingly important to people’s life chances. Today, over 65% of premises can access gigabit-capable networks, but we have ambitions to do much more, precisely because we want to ensure that a more profound digital divide does not emerge. The Government are encouraging broadband providers to roll out low-cost broadband social tariffs for low-income households, so that the internet is more affordable. We are highlighting those services via work coaches at jobcentres. We are also looking to boost digital skills. Adults can undertake specified digital qualifications up to level 1 free of charge.

The Local Government Association has warned that digital exclusion is more likely to impact those on low incomes, the over-65s and people with a disability. At the start of the pandemic, only 51% of households earning between £6,000 and £10,000 had home internet access. Meanwhile, my city is significantly below the UK average for gigabit broadband availability. With vulnerable people in Portsmouth increasingly being left behind by the Government, what specifically is the Minister doing to address affordability and bridge the digital divide?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising such an important issue. I cannot disagree with some of the LGA’s analysis. I am happy to look into his city in particular, but this is an issue I discussed with the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) just this week. Providers are offering social tariffs but we do not think uptake is strong enough. We all have a responsibility in this House to promote social tariffs, so that those who need to get on to the net can. We are looking at various initiatives to make sure people can get online, because it is so important for people’s life chances.