Superfast Broadband Delivery: Somerset

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:20 am on 13th November 2018.

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Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 11:20 am, 13th November 2018

Yes, I do. The BDUK superfast programme is being delivered under a European Commission decision from 2016, which followed on from another in 2012. As my hon. Friend will know, the 2016 decision expires in 2020. Government policy is that the state aid regime will stay in place, and the Competition and Markets Authority will take on the Commission’s role in approving schemes. My Department is working closely with the CMA to ensure that BDUK can continue to deliver projects after the 2016 decision expires.

Even with this further delivery, some premises will remain without coverage. We are working hard on our commitment to ensure universal high-speed broadband of at least 10 megabits per second by 2020. We have set out the design for a legal right to high-speed broadband in secondary legislation. Ofcom’s implementation will meet the Government’s commitment to give everyone access to high-speed broadband by 2020. In the meantime, the better broadband scheme is available for any home or business with speeds below 2 megabits per second, and provides a subsidy of up to £350 for any eligible premises for satellite broadband or, where available, other solutions. The scheme has now supported almost 20,000 homes and businesses, particularly in acutely remote locations.

In the light of the findings and recommendations of the future telecoms infrastructure review, we need to move to ensure a transformation in the UK’s digital infrastructure based on fibre to the premises—or full fibre, as it is called. Despite their delay, the contracts awarded by the CDS project already adhere to this goal and overall objective. Currently only 5% of premises have a fibre-optic connection. That is not good enough. We have a target of at least 15 million premises having a full-fibre connection by 2025 and nationwide full-fibre coverage by 2033.

That is achievable according to recent industry announcements. BT Openreach, CityFibre, Virgin Media, KCOM, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and others all have plans for significant new fibre coverage. Fibre would, of course, make a huge difference compared with copper technology. CityFibre recently announced a £2.5 billion investment in fibre, and Openreach has announced its plans to reach 3 million premises by 2020, and 10 million by 2025 if the conditions are right.

The digital infrastructure investment fund, involving Amber Fund Management and M&G Investments, is now in place. It provides £400 million of investment capital, alongside private capital, for new expanding providers of fibre broadband. Network operators such as WightFibre and Community Fibre have already leveraged that funding. Our barrier-busting taskforce is established and tackling the barriers to fibre roll-out across the UK, and includes the production of a framework for fibre delivery to provide best practice guidance. We also introduced a five-year relief from business rates in England for new fibre infrastructure.

There is no doubt that there are challenges ahead. My hon. Friends made sound points that represent the best interests of their constituents. There is also no doubt that we are making good progress in providing rural broadband coverage. I recognise that there are issues with the remaining harder-to-reach localities. We do however need to finish the job and it is our strong intention to do that. We will also continue to push hard on full-fibre coverage, including through the project in Somerset. I welcome the continued interest and support from hon. Members ably representing their constituents—they keenly require and have a right to broadband service—as we continue to ensure we deliver our goal of a full-fibre future for the United Kingdom.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.