Relief from local non-domestic rates: occupied hereditaments

Part of Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:50 pm on 5th September 2017.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport 8:50 pm, 5th September 2017

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill is part of a wide-ranging strategy to deliver world-class connectivity for our country. That, in turn, is part of our work and commitment to build a country that works for everyone and is fit for a modern age. Whether it is basic broadband over copper, world-class connectivity over fibre or continuous coverage through the air, it is part of what we could call a full-spectrum strategy.

The Bill provides vital support for the vision of full-fibre connectivity. Growing the fibre network beneath our streets and along our roads and railways is like growing a tree. The trunk links our great cities and connects Britain to the world, and we are growing the great boughs and branches to power ever wider mobile signal and reach every community. We are increasingly growing out fibre not just in the trunk or the boughs but in the multitude of small branches and twigs. It is increasingly going to people’s houses and to each business, and to all the public services of the land. The fibre network needs nourishment—it is as yet a sapling, and as increasing demands are put on it, it will be under greater strain, so we must ensure that it is strong enough to deliver.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the Bill, including those who gave it full support on Second Reading and highlighted the contribution that it would make to furthering our ambitions to deliver world-class digital infrastructure. They were absolutely right to make that point. I am grateful to the Clerks of the House, the Bill team in the Department for Communities and Local Government and my brilliant team in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I am also grateful to our partners in the telecoms industry, with whom we have worked on getting the Bill right. I look forward to their responses to the technical implementation consultation published last week. I would very much like to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Mr Jones, for steering the Bill through the House. The debates in Committee were fruitful, with the degree of support for the Bill being evident and strong.

The Bill will provide 100% business rates relief for five years for new fibre installed after April 2017. To get the details right, we will of course listen carefully to the responses to the consultation on the regulations—it is not on the policy or who the relief should apply to but on making sure that the technical details operate effectively. Especially given the Bill’s smooth passage through the House, we hope that it will be in force very soon to incentivise the deployment of more fibre and support our efforts to get world-class digital infrastructure.

To build on that, we want to create an attractive environment for the private sector to provide fibre. We are already seeing significant investment by operators across the country, including the new and growing altnets such as CityFibre, Gigaclear and Hyperoptic as well as Openreach and Virgin Media. That is supported by the Independent Networks Cooperative Association and others. I commend all of them for their work in the national interest. Business rates relief for new fibre will reduce the costs of deployment for those operators and incentivise the market to deliver where it otherwise may not have done. It is all part of ensuring that we can deliver the infrastructure that this country needs.

As I said, that is part of a broader plan. In July, we announced a £400 million investment fund to provide finance for network providers by matching their fibre investments. Over the summer we announced details of our universal service obligation so that every household will get decent broadband by 2020, and we recently announced further details of £200 million of support for getting full fibre to local bodies, schools, hospitals and other public services to help them deliver their services more effectively and ensure that the branches of fibre are rolled out more broadly. We continue to extend superfast broadband coverage over the copper network. Over 93% of UK premises have been covered to date and we are on target to reach 95% by the end of the year. Mobile coverage is on track to reach 90% of the landmass by the end of the year and we want to see 95% coverage in future.

The Bill is proof of our commitment to connectivity and our determination to deliver digital infrastructure that the country deserves. It has wide support, it has been considered in detail and it will help us build a modern Britain. I commend it to the House.