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Gigabit Broadband

Volume 711: debated on Thursday 24 March 2022

We are delivering the biggest broadband upgrade in UK history. National gigabit broadband coverage has rocketed from 6% to 66% in the past three years. Over 80 different companies are extending coverage further, investing more than £30 billion between them. Through Project Gigabit, we are investing £5 billion to ensure coverage in hard-to-reach areas across the UK.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the Government’s commitment, but as my constituency neighbour she will know that in parts of North East Bedfordshire gigabit coverage is already well below the national average. There are plans to increase it, but may I request a meeting with her or the Minister directly responsible to discuss those rural areas just outside major urban areas or towns but not in the most remote districts, which seem to be being missed by current plans?

I declare an interest. My hon. Friend is not only my constituency neighbour, but due to various boundary changes over the years we have swapped various parts of our constituency and I feel like we are joint Members for some parts of our constituencies. I would like to reassure him that premises in his constituency that are not included in the commercial providers plan will be eligible for gigabit-capable subsidy through Project Gigabit. The Project Gigabit procurement covering North East Bedfordshire is due to start by October this year, with a contract in place by September 2023. Eligible premises in North East Bedfordshire can also receive gigabit-capable connections through the broadband voucher scheme. I would very much like to meet him to talk about this matter, along with the Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez).

Digital exclusion is not just a rural phenomenon. In parts of Ealing Broadway, despite the road being dug up and cable laid, businesses report cripplingly slow times to send an email or download attachments—basic stuff that is like running water or electricity in this day and age—and don’t get me started on people working from home north of the A40. Can the Secretary of State please give us a date for when all my constituents will be levelled up internet-wise? If not, will she come with me and speak to those businesses and homes, so we can hurry it along?

We were never going to go from 0% to 100% overnight. It has always been a roll-out programme. It is a huge infrastructure investment project, and it is not possible for network builders and telecoms providers to deliver everything at once. Priority is given to where the need is greatest—that includes the businesses she mentions and hard-to-reach communities—but I will take the hon. Lady’s constituency concerns away with me and raise them with Building Digital UK. I will get back to her as soon as I can with a response.