Broadband Rollout: Devon and Somerset

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:58 pm on 2nd December 2020.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 4:58 pm, 2nd December 2020

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Fovargue. I want to thank Neil Parish for calling the debate. It has been a huge pleasure for me to listen to so many excellent and well-informed contributions. As a north-east MP, who is not allowed to travel far at the moment, I feel that I have been on a tour of Somerset and Devon and I very much appreciated it. I feel for the Members who have eloquently expressed concern about the impact of the lack of the digital infrastructure they need and deserve on the people of Devon and Somerset. I do not know whether the Minister has enjoyed the debate quite as much, but I shall briefly summarise some of what was said.

I was amazed to learn that Tiverton and Honiton’s ranking was as low as 627th, but then I found that North Devon is even further down. Obviously there are comparisons to be made, and someone has to come top and bottom. Even so, despite Devon and Somerset having 1.5% of households in the country, 5% of homes there are located in notspots. In Somerset West, one in 20 households are unable to receive the minimum 10 megabits, which is the Government’s definition of decent broadband. That figure increases to nearly 12% of households in east and west Devon. The hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton), for East Devon (Simon Jupp), for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), for North Devon, and for Tiverton and Honiton all emphasised how the pandemic had truly brought home to us the importance of connectivity at this time.

Every Member referenced the Connecting Devon and Somerset broadband scheme, which the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton described as too slow. However, the scheme exceeds the UK’s superfast broadband roll-out target set by the coalition Government, which called for 90% coverage by 2015. Unfortunately, mismanagement under the coalition Government meant that, nationally, the target was not reached and was missed by a year. If a local scheme that outperforms the Government’s is too slow and needs to be reviewed, the Government’s own position on broadband has been lacklustre and should also be up for review. [Interruption.] I do have mobile coverage here.