Superfast Broadband Delivery: Somerset

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 13th November 2018.

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Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 11:00 am, 13th November 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered superfast broadband delivery in Somerset.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I know the Minister is swimming in unfamiliar waters this morning, but I am very grateful to him for coming to respond to this debate.

The Connecting Devon and Somerset intervention area, or CDS, is the biggest in England, and it is connecting some of the hardest-to-reach communities in the country. CDS did not have an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, and it is important to say right at the outset that the purpose of today’s debate is not to beat up CDS for the Gigaclear contract unravelling as it has. In fact, rather than starting with criticism of CDS, I would like to pick out Matt Barrow, an employee of Devon County Council who has been working on the Connecting Devon and Somerset project since its beginning, and who has spent hours by my side in public meetings in village halls across my constituency. I know he has done it with many colleagues elsewhere in their constituencies, helping residents to understand the differences between fibre to the cabinet and fibre to the premises, the way that CDS is working and when they will get their broadband.

There is absolutely no shortage of effort or expertise at Connecting Devon and Somerset, and the organisation has all the right intentions to deliver the best possible quality broadband to the residents of Devon and Somerset as quickly as it can. The reason we have this debate this morning is that the Gigaclear contract, which was signed for the delivery of phase 2 of the state aid intervention, has not run to time. Indeed, at the very first check after only six months of its anticipated delivery, Gigaclear is already well behind and has admitted that it needs to relook at the programme for delivery.

There are three key areas for our discussion this morning. The first is the soundness of Gigaclear’s position. Can it actually deliver what it has said it can? The second is the continued case for state aid in some parts of Devon and Somerset. The market has changed over the last year or so, and commercial providers are now delivering fibre to the premises, which raises a question about the legitimacy of state aid in those circumstances. Thirdly, how can we get on with the final 5% of premises that are now awaiting connection?