To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what plans his Department has to work with internet providers throughout the UK to ensure that rural areas have adequate level of connectivity.
The UK Government has legislated to implement the Universal Service Obligation (USO), which launched on 20th March 2020. The USO is a UK-wide measure which provides eligible households with the legal right to request a broadband connection that provides download speeds of at least 10Mbps and an upload speed of at least 1Mbps up to a Reasonable Cost Threshold of £3,400 per premise. The eligible premises are predominantly located in rural areas.
In addition, the Government’s Superfast programme has invested more than £1.8bn of public money, to connect over 5.2 million homes and businesses to superfast broadband, providing download speeds of at least 24 Mbps. Over 96% of the UK now has access to these speeds. Building Digital UK (BDUK) continues to work closely with Local Authorities and Devolved Administrations to deliver improved connectivity through the programme, overwhelmingly focussing on premises in rural areas.
The Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme, which is part of the Government’s £200 million Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme, provides vouchers of up to £3,500 for SMEs and up to £1,500 for residents in rural areas to connect to gigabit-capable broadband. This government will also be investing an additional £5 billion to ensure that premises in the hardest to reach areas are able to access gigabit-capable broadband.
Alongside this investment in broadband, the Government announced in March 2020 that it had agreed a £1 billion deal with the mobile network operators to deliver the Shared Rural Network. This will see operators collectively increase mobile phone coverage throughout the UK to 95% by the end of 2025, underpinned by legally binding coverage commitments.