This backbench business debate on superfast broadband rollout, will consider the motion:

“That this House notes variations in the effectiveness of roll-out of fixed and mobile superfast broadband in different parts of the UK; and calls on the Government to host a not-spot summit to consider the ways to tackle this issue”

Broadband roll-out: Headline targets 

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is spending £790 million on its superfast (rural) broadband programme, which aims to improve superfast broadband provision to premises across the UK. The Coalition Government’s revised its target dates for several of their broadband commitments a number of times, but the current targets are to extend:

  • Superfast broadband (24Mbps) for 90% of the UK by the end of 2015, and provide a basic broadband service (2Mbps) for all – Phase 1;
  • Superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by 2017 – Phase 2;
  • Superfast broadband coverage to the “final 5%” of UK premises – Phase 3.

Britain’s superfast broadband future

The Coalition Government’s main broadband commitments were first detailed in a broadband strategy – Britain’s superfast broadband future – in December 2010. This strategy set the Government’s ambition and allocated £530 million: to provide everyone in the UK with access to broadband with a download speed of at least 2Mbps (megabits per second); and to bring ‘superfast broadband’ (at least 24Mbps) to 90% of UK homes and businesses. Later, in 2013, the Government increased its ambition, allocating an additional £250 million to provide 95% of the UK with ‘superfast broadband’ by 2017. The Government is also exploring different approaches to delivering superfast broadband to the remaining hardest to reach areas—namely, remote and rural areas—phase 3.

In 2011, the Government set aside £100 million for an Urban Broadband Fund (UBF) that will create up to ten ‘super-connected’ cities across the UK. In 2012 a further fund of £50 million was made available to create a ‘second wave’ of cities to benefit from the programme. And in the Autumn Statement 2014, the Government provided an extra £40 million for its broadband connection voucher scheme, which has also been extended to March 2016 and to 50 more UK cities.

In the March 2015 Budget the Coalition Government announced a new ambition that ultrafast broadband (speeds of at least 100Mbps) would be available to nearly all UK premises, although no target date was given.

Phase 3: the Final 5%

There are nearly 1.5 million UK properties in the “final 5%”, which are geographically dispersed across the UK, posing different technological and social challenges.

As part of phase 3 of the programme, in March 2014, the Government announced that it was opening up to bids a £10m innovation fund “to test innovative ways to help take broadband to Britain’s most remote communities.” Three months later, the Government announced that it had shortlisted the 8 successful bids to progress to the feasibility stage, ahead of deployment later in the year. The shortlisted schemes included proposals for: satellite broadband; next-gen wireless; a BDUK funded voucher scheme; and a community finance model. Feasibility studies assessed the potential for commercial and technical viability as well as expected scalability of the 8 shortlisted projects. After this initial review, 7 of the 8 pilots will now run until March 2016 with further evidence and findings due to be published during 2015 and 2016.

In February 2015, Sajid David MP explained that the Government’s focus was now on reaching the “final 5%” of hard to reach, remote and rural areas.

For more information on reaching the final 5% of hard to reach properties, please see the Library blog, Superfast Broadband roll-out: Reaching the final 5% ‘hardest to reach areas’.

Delays in rollout

On 5 July 2013 the NAO reported on the Government’s broadband programme. The report notes that Departmental forecasts predict the programme will complete its rollout 22 months later than originally planned. The NAO report was followed by a series of select committee inquiries. In January 2015 the NAO published an updated report on the rural broadband programme which noted that superfast broadband is likely to reach the phase 1 target of 90% of premises ahead of the revised date of December 2016.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on Rural Broadband and digital only services was published on 3 February 2015. The report notes that the Government’s target dates for broadband have changed a number of times, and raises concerns that the target for delivering superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises “may slip”. It also urged the Government to set a clear target date for when the last 5% of premises will obtain access to superfast broadband.

New Conservative Government 2015-

The new Conservative Government’s 2015 election manifesto reaffirmed its superfast broadband ambitions, pledging that rural Britain would have “near universal” superfast broadband by the end of the 2015 Parliament.

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