Rural Communities in Scotland: Broadband — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 22nd November 2017.

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Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk 9:30 am, 22nd November 2017

The hon. Lady makes an important point, which demonstrates yet again the centralising tendencies of the nationalist Government in Edinburgh and their focus on the central belt, rather than devolving powers to the communities that we all represent.

The “Connected Nations” report highlights that only 46% of premises in rural Scotland can access superfast broadband, compared with 62% of rural premises in England. It is those premises that will benefit from the universal service obligation. I fully support the universal service obligation contained in the Digital Economy Act 2017, but I would argue that the minimum speed should be higher than 10 megabits per second, as originally suggested. I know that the Minister is considering a proposal by BT to deliver the USO outside the 2017 Act, which BT says it will be able to deliver quicker. However, I believe that BT has had its chance to deliver and has failed. The 2016 report from the British Infrastructure Group highlighted that in 2009 BT promised that 2.5 million homes would be connected to ultrafast fibre to premises services by 2012, which was 25% of the country, yet by September 2015 BT had managed to reach around 0.7% of homes.

Lastly on BT, residents in many rural communities feel angry—frankly, I share their anger—when Openreach tells them that it is not commercially viable to invest in their broadband connections, and yet they read in the press about BT splashing out £1.2 billion on the rights to televise the champions league. No, BT and Openreach have had their chance and they have failed to deliver for rural Scotland.

I suspect we will hear similar experiences from other Members, so I will draw my remarks to a conclusion. Ofcom’s “Connected Nations” report describes the situation well when it states:

“Fast, reliable communications enable businesses to generate prosperity and employment, and our countries to compete. They empower every citizen to take a full part in society and benefit from life’s opportunities. Communications also save lives, bind families and friends together, and keep us entertained.”

We need to act to bridge the broadband gap between urban and rural Scotland—the broadband haves and the broadband have-nots.