Superfast Broadband

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 4th June 2015.

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Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Conservative, South Cambridgeshire 9:30 am, 4th June 2015

What progress his Department is making on the roll-out of superfast broadband.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

More than 2.5 million additional homes and businesses now have access to superfast broadband as a result of the Government’s intervention. We continue to add 40,000 more homes and businesses every week.

Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

I feel that I am about to gatecrash a party, but we have exactly the same situation in South Cambridgeshire. Connecting Cambridgeshire is doing a fantastic job of rolling out broadband across much of the constituency, but our roads are at gridlock—a happy consequence of our economic success—and it is vital that we keep people working in local hubs and from home. I, too, am interested in what other technologies we might explore to reach those people who are missing, so please may I come along too?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election and she is a very welcome party guest. The Government are investing more than £8 million in Connecting Cambridgeshire, which will increase coverage in her constituency to 94% by 2017. As she pointed out, there will be some areas that are much harder to reach and it might not be possible to do so by the traditional methods, so we are running pilot projects to explore other ways in which we can bring coverage up to reach even the furthest parts of her and other hon. Members’ constituencies. I would be happy to talk to her further.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

Further to that answer, what more can we do to support alternative ways of delivering broadband, such as that offered by W3Z in my constituency, which can provide high-speed broadband to the most rural homes and can get it to them far quicker than fibre broadband will?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is completely right that although fibre will, we hope, supply superfast broadband to the overwhelming majority of premises in the country there will be some for which it is not practical. That is why we are piloting alternatives through our three pilot projects testing fixed wireless technologies in rural areas in North Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and Monmouthshire. These are being run by Airwave, Quickline and AB Internet. We will consider the results to assess the best way of extending the programme still further into the most difficult areas.

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness

One of the issues that remain for the people who will not get superfast broadband via fibre is that it is very hard to find out from BT or local councils that they will definitely not get it. Our programme has made remarkable progress, but would the Secretary of State like to see BT and local councils providing much greater clarity to communities so that they can explore other technologies such as microwave, wi-fi or satellite?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election. I know that in his capacity as a former technology editor he brings a particular expertise to our debates on this subject. He is absolutely right that there will be some cases where, for the time being, it will not be possible to extend superfast broadband. I hope that we will eventually be able to do so, but in the meantime I entirely agree with him that it is important that people should be aware of that position. We are introducing a seven-digit postcode checker, which is now on the gov.uk website, so that people can be made aware of that position.