Broadband and Mobile Phone Coverage: Rural Areas

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th February 2018.

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Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland 12:00 am, 8th February 2018

What steps his Department is taking to improve broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

What steps his Department is taking to improve broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas.

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Our ambition is for the UK to have better digital connectivity wherever people live, work and travel, which very much includes rural areas. Superfast broadband is now available to 95% of UK premises, and roll-out will continue to cover the majority of remaining premises. By 2020, the universal service obligation will give everyone the legal right to high-speed broadband at 10 megabits per second or faster.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland

I thank the Minister for her response, but around 33% of my rural constituency of Copeland is still not covered by fast internet, which is holding back our villages and farm businesses. What can be done, as soon as possible, to help those businesses and communities?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

We are doing a great deal to help businesses and people in rural areas. My hon. Friend might like to campaign for greater awareness of the access that people in her constituency have to the internet, because it is now at 93%. As in many other constituencies, however, people are not taking that up, and I urge those who live in rural areas, where the access is there, to take it up.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

Last week, I held a meeting of larger employers in my constituency, and it became clear that one thing they feel is holding them back is the lack of a mobile signal between junctions 10 and 11 of the M40. Will the Minister work with me to improve that?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that problem about the M40, which I experience regularly on my way to my constituency of Stourbridge. Current coverage on UK motorways is 97% for telephone calls, but that is no comfort to those travelling on the stretch she has identified. I will work with her to bring about a solution as swiftly as possible.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

May I urge the Minister to be much more sceptical about the figures given out by mobile phone companies and operators? In all honesty, looking at their maps on the ground, they have nowhere near the figures of which they boast.

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

The Ofcom “Connected Nations” report contains new measures that reflect truer consumer standards, and it is opening the new 700 MHz spectrum band, which will be suitable for wider area coverage. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point, and we are working to get better consumer measures on those matters.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Although there has been an improvement over the years, 63,000 homes and offices in Northern Ireland—8% of properties—remain unable to sign up for broadband speeds. What discussions have taken place with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland to ensure a roll-out of the moneys agreed for rural areas through the confidence and supply agreement?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Northern Ireland’s outdoor geographic coverage is better than the UK average, but I recognise that indoor coverage is poor compared with the rest of the country. The new code reforms will help, alongside our desire to extend geographic mobile coverage to 95% of the entire United Kingdom.

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

My right hon. Friend refers to the universal service obligation that will guarantee 10 megabits per second. According to Ofcom, that is enough for multiple usage in the home, and for downloading film and video.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Villages such as Lixwm, Ysceifiog and Bagillt in rural areas of my constituency are getting increasingly frustrated with the performance of Openreach in delivering broadband. Two years ago, the Government pledged through Ofcom to deconstruct Openreach from BT, but what progress has been made on that objective?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I encourage the right hon. Gentleman to remember that BT and Openreach are no longer a monopoly. I draw his attention to today’s announcement by TalkTalk that it is cutting its dividend and connecting more than 3 million homes to full fibre, building Britain’s full fibre future.