Digital Economy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:07 pm on 13th September 2016.

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Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Conservative, Saffron Walden 2:07 pm, 13th September 2016

Of course I agree with that; I am trying to argue that universal should mean universal. Ten megabits, which is frankly insufficient, is an average figure, and we all know what has been done with average figures on car fuel consumption. The 10 megabits figure must be taken with a slight pinch of salt, and we should aim for a higher standard. If we do not recognise that, we are committing people who live in rural areas to forever playing catch-up.

My other worry relates to the unevenness of provision and not simply between town and country. People are bewildered, if not downright angry, that while they are expected to wait for a 10-megabit download speed—which is perhaps all right if they, like many, get less than 2 megabits at the moment—they hear about other parts of the country, some of them rural, receiving vastly better speeds of up to 100 megabits. They say, “Why is this happening? We hear that there is a roll-out, but when will it ever reach us?” One difficulty is that the superfast roll-out depends heavily on BT’s established network, which creates anomalies. One village in my constituency has three boxes, two of which have been converted to enable a decent broadband service. The third mysteriously has not, yet it serves just as many people as the others. That creates anger in a village that is acknowledged as being rural because people ask, “Why aren’t we being treated the same?” Technical answers about historical reasons are provided when that question is asked.

There has been growth in the number of niche providers that are prepared to offer deals to people living in scattered communities. It is important that that is encouraged, but I also hear that embedded in the roll-out programme is a measure stating that if a commercial company has said that it will provide a service in a given area, no one else can touch it and the company is almost inviolate for a period of time. That cannot be right if we are talking about the urgency of getting broadband rolled out universally.

I want an end to the confusion and a greater degree of clarity to be introduced for people so that they understand what they can expect and how they can go about getting it. We need more local initiatives to identify alternative ways of getting superfast broadband. I have seen examples in my constituency of concerned citizens getting together and forming a working group to consider how to get broadband delivered. We should be helping them with that, not necessarily with subventions, but by letting them know how to go about it—perhaps through local authorities. We should not favour one company over another, but simply say, “These are the ways in which you may be able get broadband faster than through the main roll-out.” That would help to diminish the growing frustration and uncertainty and would help us to enhance coverage. If the increasing number of pathways to broadband were better advertised and better explained, the Government would help more people than just through the broad roll-out programme. Everyone should feel part of our digital economy if we are putting legislation through under that name. To put it another way: we should all be in it together.