Superfast Broadband

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 14th June 2012.

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Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 10:30 am, 14th June 2012

What recent progress he has made on his plans to ensure the UK has the best superfast broadband network in Europe.

Photo of Eric Ollerenshaw Eric Ollerenshaw Conservative, Lancaster and Fleetwood

What recent progress he has made on his plans to ensure the UK has the best superfast broadband network in Europe.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

What recent progress he has made on his plans to ensure the UK has the best superfast broadband network in Europe.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

What recent progress he has made on his plans to ensure the UK has the best superfast broadband network in Europe.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I have now approved 37 out of 43 local broadband plans—that is, almost 90% across the whole country—and nine are in procurement. A number of those are almost ready to begin delivery, and the other projects are being prepared for procurement with support from Broadband Delivery UK, which is also finalising details for the broadband delivery framework contract.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

May I congratulate the Minister on the progress that he is making on superfast broadband, but ask that this not be done at the expense of those living in remote rural areas, such as parts of Monmouthshire, who have yet to see any form of broadband whatsoever?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the whole purpose of the programme is to ensure that fast broadband speeds are available to everyone. Indeed, it is the people in the most remote areas who stand to gain the most in terms of preventing villages from being depopulated and helping people who are disabled to get their shopping done. There are all sorts of very important benefits, and I hope that the £57 million that we have allocated to Wales, which has been more than matched by the Welsh Government, will make that happen in Monmouthshire and throughout Wales.

Photo of Eric Ollerenshaw Eric Ollerenshaw Conservative, Lancaster and Fleetwood

Can the Minister confirm that when community-led schemes to bring superfast broadband to remote rural areas, such as Broadband for the Rural North in my constituency, initially raise their own funds, they will not then be discriminated against on access to future Government support?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

We are specifically trying to set up a scheme so that, where people raise their own funds to solve broadband problems, it is possible to integrate that into the national network. Our objective is to enable as much local self-help work as possible, so I welcome my hon. Friend’s initiative and those taken by his constituents.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

Large parts of my constituency suffer from rural broadband poverty, but at an official level it is often masked because neighbouring Oxford has good broadband, and the level at which it is integrated is too great to show that granularity. What advice can my right hon. Friend give about making sure that those areas of rural broadband poverty in my constituency are recognised?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The comfort that I can give my hon. Friend is that our ambition, which is vastly higher than anything that we had from Labour, is that by 2015 90% of the country will have access to superfast broadband. However, it will not stop there, because we will have a plan in place for the other 10% which means that they will have a very good prospect of getting superfast broadband. In many cases—for example, in my own county of Surrey—plans are being put forward whereby there will be 100% access to superfast broadband by 2014. Good local authorities are thinking about the other 10% and making sure that they are not left behind, and we are doing everything we can to help them.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

In my constituency we have lots of rural areas that are not going to be part of the superfast broadband roll-out. In one area in particular—in fact, it is where I happen to live—there is a large community of parishes where two thirds of people are home workers or involved in small businesses. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give that we will be able to achieve access to the existing national infrastructure of fibre-optic cabling to avoid having to reinstall new cables? In this area, there is a rural grouping who are trying to gain access to existing infrastructure and being denied that by private companies.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The best reassurance for the people who live around my hon. Friend is probably the fact that she lives there; I am sure that means that the issue will receive a lot of attention. People in remote areas who do not have access to good broadband are at the top of our minds. We are determined to put in place a structure that makes sure that even if they are not in the 90% covered by 2015, they will be covered very soon afterwards or we will have a structure that allows them to be covered within that framework.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), DUP Westminster Leader

Developing the best possible communications network is one of the key priorities for Belfast city council and the local administration in Northern Ireland, and great progress has been made. May I urge the Secretary of State to support Belfast’s bid for greater funding for superfast broadband, which is an excellent way of attracting the greater economic growth and further direct investment that we need?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

First, I should congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, because Northern Ireland has some of the best broadband in Europe already. He is absolutely right. One of the other big differences between this Government’s policies and those of the previous Government is that we are not stopping at having superfast broadband for the whole country but want our cities to have some of the best broadband in the world and to aspire to the speeds that can be found in Singapore, Seoul and other cities. I hope that Belfast will be among them.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

In the two years since this Government took office, they have not delivered 1 metre of extra fibre or one bit of extra bandwidth. BDUK is still sorting out its super-fragmented contracting process. Up and down the country, hundreds of thousands of people are denied decent broadband because the Government abandoned our universal broadband pledge. Does the Secretary of State deny that, under Labour, this year everyone would have had access to decent broadband to play their part in the innovation economy?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Let me remind the hon. Lady that when her party left office there was no money left. Quite how she thought that it was going to deliver universal access to broadband by 2012 when it left the country’s finances bust, I do not know. We took a plan that was clearly not going to work and instead put in place a plan that has much higher ambitions, with not only universal access to broadband but 90% access to superfast broadband and cities with ultrafast broadband—some of the fastest broadband in the world.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Vice-Chair, Conservative 1922 Committee

One of the alternative ways of making faster broadband available is through the roll-out of 4G mobile services, but has the Secretary of State seen the analysis by Freeview that suggests that over 2 million homes may have their digital television service interfered with as a result, and that the funds secured by the Government to counter that interference may not be anything like sufficient? Does he agree with that analysis, and what is he proposing to do about it?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I absolutely agree that the roll-out of 4G is another opportunity. One of the options proposed by Ofcom would mean 98% coverage of 4G, which would be extremely important in many of the rural areas about which hon. Friends are concerned. We have an ongoing consultation about the mitigation plans for people whose signals will be affected by these auctions. Ofcom has not told me that it has any concerns about the plans that are in place, but I will listen to it very carefully in that regard.