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

I really am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that timely intervention. I meant to say that I felt for the experience, but I am keen to feel the actual experience in the gorgeous surroundings that he has so well described. The products and services sound so very attractive.

We have had 10 wasted years for telecoms infrastructure under this Government. I was a chartered engineer who worked in telecoms for 20 years before coming into Parliament, which I mention from time to time, and the decade that I have been in Parliament has coincided with a rapid relative decline in the quality of our telecommunications infrastructure. Labour made great strides in building a digital economy. Our Communications Act 2003 set out the strategy and vision for a decade. Our office of the internet was a world leader, and we oversaw the roll-out of the first generation of broadband to more than 50% of households by 2009.

Labour’s plans would have seen two-thirds of UK households have access to services of up to 40 megabits by 2015. Unfortunately, that is now not the case, consecutive Tory Governments having squandered that world-leading position. Several Members mentioned the need for effective competition and not the over-building of fibre to one home, and not the absence of any competition or a monopoly provider. Under Labour, we had competitive infrastructure competitions, including the local loop, but since then we have seen U-turns, dither and delay in infrastructure roll-out, including the BDUK scheme, which re-emphasised Openreach—indeed, BT—effectively as a monopoly provider. All phase 1 contracts and funding under the scheme went to British Telecom, and the Public Accounts Committee warned that that restricted the Department’s ability to insist on value for money. Will the Minister set out his strategy for encouraging effective competition, particularly in rural broadband? It is concerning to see that as a country that invented the fibre-optic cable—