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Broadband: Urban Areas

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 3rd March 2016.

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Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 9:30 am, 3rd March 2016

What recent progress has been made on improving access to broadband in urban areas.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Culture Media and Sport)

I am very pleased to tell you, Mr Speaker, that the broadband roll-out is going extremely well, particularly in our cities. I am also particularly pleased at the success of our business voucher scheme, under which 50,000 businesses have benefited.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I make no apology for returning to the thorny issue of the frustrations of e-poverty in the city of Gloucester. In 2013, BT promised to upgrade box No. 90. In 2014, it said it was sorry for the delay, but that it would still happen. In 2015, it changed its mind. In 2016, at a meeting with me earlier this week, it asked, “Could you send us the original emails saying we would ever upgrade this box?” At what stage is a commitment from BT a real commitment that will not result in constituents turning around to me and saying, “You lied”?

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Culture Media and Sport)

I am obviously not BT’s spokesman, but I hope BT is listening to what my hon. Friend has to say. He is a fantastic constituency MP. While I am very proud of the success of our roll-out programme, it is incumbent on BT to get its act together in terms of customer service and delivering on its promises.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

When the Minister boasts that we have some of the best broadband in Europe, who is he comparing us with? Is he aware of the House of Lords report showing that, for broadband speed, we are the 19th fastest in the world and the 12th fastest in Europe? Is that not really abysmal, and can we not do better?

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Culture Media and Sport)

I do not think we could do better than we are already, actually. When I compare our broadband, I do so first with similar countries, such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy, all of whom we are beating. I would not look simply at speed. The hon. Gentleman takes a very narrow view, and does not look at prices. We have some of the lowest prices anywhere in the world. If we look at results—the fact that we lead the world in e-commerce, for example—they show that we are probably the world’s most advanced digital nation.

Photo of Ben Howlett Ben Howlett Conservative, Bath

In urban areas, such as Bath, technology is available to skip the roll-out of superfast broadband and go directly to the installation of ultrafast broadband. Does the Minister agree with the logic of that, which will help to reduce disruption and save money in the long term and give businesses in Bath a huge boost?

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Culture Media and Sport)

It is very important to set realistic targets. That is why we dropped Labour’s pathetic 2 megabits policy and went to 24 megabits. Now is the time to start looking at a gigabit Britain. I utterly endorse what my hon. Friend says. Let us not get stuck in the past with Labour; let us go forward to the future.

Photo of George Kerevan George Kerevan Scottish National Party, East Lothian

Is the Minister aware that the very latest European Commission digital economy scorecard, published in just the past few weeks, ranks the UK below not just the Nordic countries, which we would expect, but countries such as Belgium? Despite the well-known antipathy of his Secretary of State to all things European, will the Minister press the European Investment Bank to put more money into extending broadband, particularly in rural constituencies such as mine of East Lothian?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The question is ongoing. People must not beetle out of the Chamber while their question is ongoing. That is a very established principle. I am sure Richard Graham is interested in views other than his own.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy (Jointly with Department for Culture Media and Sport)

It may be that BT, having heard his question, is already on the phone to my hon. Friend.

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s tone of contempt for small countries, such as Belgium. I think small countries—small and perfectly formed countries—are often extremely successful. Just the other day, I was talking to an investor about the extraordinary digital businesses that exist in Edinburgh, such as Skyscanner. Those really groundbreaking businesses are developing thanks to our digital policies. I know that he will support what we are doing. I have forgotten his original point, because I was going on so much about what a fantastic, digitally innovative country Scotland is.