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Gigabit Broadband Roll-out

Volume 685: debated on Thursday 10 December 2020

The Government are absolutely committed to delivering nationwide gigabit broadband as soon as possible. That is why we are investing £5 billion to support roll-out in the hardest-to-reach areas of the country. We will go as fast as we can and the only thing that will hold us up is how fast we can get the fibre into the ground. We are engaging closely with industry to support its efforts by incentivising investment and removing barriers to roll-out.

I thank my hon. Friend for his positive answer. Now that Stoke-on-Trent has a complete city-wide full-fibre network offering gigabit speeds and capability, does he agree that Stoke-on-Trent would be the perfect test bed to show how, post Brexit, smaller UK cities can more than match up to similar-sized centres of digital innovation such as Eindhoven, Karlsruhe and Aalborg? Will he commit the Government to help make my Silicon Stoke vision a reality, as part of the levelling up commitments?

My hon. Friend misses no opportunity to promote Silicon Stoke. The Government are absolutely committed to using trials and test beds to support the kind of innovation he talks about. We are interested in new ideas as part of that levelling up commitment. I look forward to continuing our conversations with Stoke and maybe even visiting one day.

Mrs Sharp, who lives in Delyn in my constituency, has just had a quote for £131,638 to install full-fibre broadband for her and her 18 neighbours. That works out at about £7,000 per property. When I queried this with Openreach, it said, “Well, she lives in a rural community. Perhaps she could dig her own trenches to reduce the cost of the groundwork.” Given that levelling up should not only be for people in towns and cities and those who happen to own heavy machinery, can my hon. Friend look into this case and others like it to come up with a better answer for Mrs Sharp than “dig your own holes”?

There are communities that have successfully dug their own trenches, but it is obviously not right to suggest that that would be right for everybody. Ofcom is looking at the universal service obligation, one of the routes to getting broadband into rural areas, but there are other methods. I encourage my hon. Friend to ask his constituents to look at the voucher schemes, particularly those supported by the Welsh Government, and other technologies. But I am happy to look into this specific case, because obviously it is not likely that everyone owns enough heavy machinery to dig every trench.