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Superfast Broadband

Volume 623: debated on Thursday 16 March 2017

3. What support her Department is giving local authorities to achieve superfast broadband coverage targets. (909285)

I can tell the House that independent figures show that superfast broadband is now available to 92.5% of UK premises; we are on track to meet our manifesto commitment of 95% by the end of the year.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. The superfast roll-out in Northamptonshire is ahead of schedule, but what reassurance can he give to my constituents in the most difficult-to-reach areas, particularly those who find themselves on county boundaries, that they will soon benefit from this roll-out, too?

My hon. Friend’s support for the Digital Economy Bill means that the universal service obligation to bring high-speed broadband to every premise in the UK is getting closer to reality. Not only that, but because of the take-up of superfast broadband, every person in Northamptonshire who takes it up also helps to get the roll-out to go further, because more money goes back into the system to provide more connection.

It is shameful that seven out of the 10 UK communities with the slowest broadband download speeds are in Wales. Abererch in Dwyfor is bottom of that league, with a speed of 2.7 megabits per second. Llanymawddwy in Meirionnydd was promised broadband by this spring, but BT backed out last month. Will the Minister join me in asking when the Labour Welsh Government will speed up their act on broadband?

Of course the delivery of the broadband contract in Wales is a matter for the Welsh Government, but they have made some progress on this recently and we have been working together. The geography of Wales means that the roll-out there is harder, but that does not mean we should not get to everybody with high-speed broadband by the end of the decade. I hope that the hon. Lady’s support for the Digital Economy Bill will help to make that happen.

In my village of Tholthorpe, 12 of 100 houses have not been enabled for superfast broadband, although the rest have. Openreach could solve this problem by the simple deployment of a wireless connection, but it refused to do so. The Minister met me to discuss this, so does he agree that contractors taking public money should use all means at their disposal to solve these problems?

Does the Minister accept that often, even though the Government may say they have met their targets and the broadband providers will say that they have got fantastic speeds, people in their house or in their business will experience speeds that are much, much slower and nowhere near what the Government are promising? I am not attacking the Government in saying this; I am simply trying to get reality into the equation, so that people in their homes and in their businesses can get proper superfast broadband.

Working with the hon. Gentleman on this subject has been unusually enjoyable, because he is not making party political points on this one; he has been working hard for his constituents and we have been engaged in serious correspondence. The truth is that we use independent figures on the roll-out, but a lot of people do not take up the broadband that is available to them.

We are immensely grateful to the Minister. I would call the hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) on this question if he were standing, but if he does not stand, I will not do so.

8. It is good to be able to ask this question, so thank you for the opportunity, Mr Speaker. I welcome the steps the Secretary of State is taking to improve broadband services across the country and in communities across our borders—I am very grateful for that work. Will the Minister tell the House more about the full-fibre connection vouchers that were detailed in the Budget Red Book? How will they assist businesses in our rural communities? (909291)

Yes, I can. In the Budget we announced that we are going to have a full-fibre business voucher. This means that businesses will be able to access a voucher to help provide a full-fibre connection, giving gigabit speeds. The first wave of projects will be towards the end of this year or the start of next year, and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend on implementing that deal.

Does the Minister think that this super-duper broadband, which is relatively new to me, will be able to expose, even more so, the Tory election fraud covering 20 seats? What a wonderful idea!

I thought that even the hon. Gentleman was going to join in this non-partisan celebration of connectivity, but unfortunately he could not resist.

Data from the House of Commons Library show that the rural Higham and Pendleside ward in my constituency suffers some of the worst levels of broadband, with a quarter of residents experiencing absolutely pathetic download speeds. Will my right hon. Friend get his Department to sit down with Superfast Lancashire and Openreach to find a way forward for that ward?

Yes, we are making some progress in Lancashire, but there is much more to do. I hope that my hon. Friend’s support for the Digital Economy Bill and the universal service obligation will help to make sure that we can connect everybody in Lancashire with a decent speed over the next couple of years.