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Volume 609: debated on Tuesday 3 May 2016

1. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of availability of broadband to businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber. (904763)

3. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of availability of broadband to businesses in the north-east. (904765)

I recently announced a joint review by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport of business broadband to ensure that businesses are able to access the affordable, high-speed broadband that they need and deserve. More than 250,000 homes and businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber, and more than 100,000 in the north-east, have superfast broadband available for the first time thanks to the Government’s investment programme.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. If the Department is on track to meet its targets, why does Ofcom analysis predict that by 2017, when 95% of all UK premises will have superfast broadband, around 18% of small and medium-sized enterprises, including many in my constituency, will not? Why are so many businesses being left behind, and does the Secretary of State accept that his plans show a lack of ambition?

No, I do not. I hope that the hon. Lady will recognise that superfast broadband coverage throughout the UK has increased from 45% of the country in 2010 to almost 90% now, and that we are fully on target to reach 95% by 2017. It is important that we keep looking at new ways to extend coverage through fixed wireless and mobile, and that is exactly what we are doing.

A senior adviser at the Institute of Directors has said that they expect the Government to meet the universal service obligation, but that is only because the bar is set so low. How are the Government going to provide the physical infrastructure to maintain Britain’s position at the forefront of digital innovation in business? Will the Secretary of State also answer the question about the lack of provision for SMEs, which he did not address?

We are extending broadband coverage throughout the country and it includes hundreds of thousands of SMEs, including in the hon. Lady’s constituency. We are on target, and she may like to know that our USO is twice as high as is recommended in the EU. Already, despite the fact that there is more work to do—I am the first to accept that—we have wider coverage than most of our large EU partners, we have higher average speeds and we have the lowest average price.

The Ofcom solution to the desperately poor penetration of fibre to premises in the UK is to open up access to BT’s ducts and poles, but that would require reasonable rates of access as well as a clear network map of those ducts and poles. What can the Secretary of State do to make sure that BT complies with those requirements?

I have read Ofcom’s report carefully and met Ofcom a number of times about that issue, and I have every reason to think that BT will comply. If that does not happen, of course we will look at what action we can take.