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

My hon. Friend and neighbour is absolutely right: the market is delivering. Whatever the business model, and whether that is cell first and build second, I now have hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of TrueSpeed, Voneus and Openreach fibre-to-the-premise customers in my constituency—a situation that has been delivered through an open-market solution, within the area that the open market review had identified as requiring state aid.

A key question for the Government today is whether state aid is even legal in areas where the market has already provided. I am not sure that we should be using taxpayers’ money to subsidise the delivery of a competitor into an area where a commercial company has already set up. TrueSpeed is underwritten by Prudential. How absurd that we would be spending taxpayers’ money to subsidise the delivery of an infrastructure underwritten by one pension scheme while another, Aviva, has underwritten the money on a commercial basis without the need for taxpayers’ intervention. As the market has changed, we need to be very clear about whether we need to go back and look at the open market review again to understand where the market is now providing.

It is certainly the case that my constituency and those of my hon. Friends John Penrose and for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), of my right hon. Friend Dr Fox and my hon. Friends the Members for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) and for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) will benefit more quickly because TrueSpeed is working away from the transatlantic fibre link that lands at Weston-super-Mare. TrueSpeed has accessed that link to fibre and is fanning out from there. The delay in the Gigaclear contract is an opportunity for us to look again at whether the market has changed, and whether Gigaclear’s priorities need to be tweaked.