Skip to main content

Internet Access for Households and Businesses

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 7 July 2022

11. What steps she is taking to help ensure all households and businesses in (a) England and (b) West Worcestershire constituency are able to access fast and reliable internet connections. (900946)

Only 97.5% of premises in England and 95% in West Worcestershire can access superfast broadband of at least 30 megabits per second. We are now bringing forward investment of £5 billion through Project Gigabit to provide gigabit connectivity to premises across the UK that are not covered through the commercial delivery. We have already provided gigabit coverage to 600,000 premises in areas that previously only had low speeds. We are aiming to commence procurement for gigabit coverage in Worcestershire between September and November of this year.

The figures I have got from the House of Commons Library for West Worcestershire say that 9% of my constituency is still not covered. That is because it is very cumbersome to put together the groups of people with vouchers to make a scheme viable, and they are very vulnerable to someone withdrawing their voucher at the last minute. Will the Secretary of State look at ways to improve that, so we can have someone underwriting and strengthening the delivery of this important service to rural areas?

Hundreds of premises in rural areas across my hon. Friend’s constituency, which I know well, have received gigabit-capable connections through the voucher scheme, but, as she says, there are some fragilities to that. We will be bringing forward our Project Gigabit procurement for suppliers to provide coverage to premises that are not covered by the commercial providers, or where vouchers are not the most effective approach. Alongside this, we have introduced voucher priority areas, but in some instances suppliers are able to deliver faster thanks to their participation in the voucher scheme. I reiterate what I said in response to a previous answer: we were never going to reach 100% overnight, but to have gone from 6% to 69% across the UK in three years is pretty remarkable, and that progress continues at pace.

The Prime Minister—sorry, the Secretary of State—[Laughter.] With the level of change at the moment, it is hard to keep track. The Secretary of State refers, I presume, to the current Prime Minister’s commitment that no one be left behind, but she knows well that under successive Conservative Governments, the absence of a digital inclusion strategy means that the digital divide has broadened, whether it be between rural and urban, between those who have digital skills and those who do not, or between those who can afford broadband and those who cannot. The last digital inclusion strategy was in 2014. When will a new one appear?

The progress with which we have commenced the roll-out of gigabit broadband across the UK has been exemplary. Just last week, I held a roundtable with telecommunications providers to urge them to look at social tariffs and to offer lower rates to those who are left behind and cannot afford the rates that others can. Work never stops in this area. We are very aware of those who cannot access broadband and cannot have digital access—