MPs Demand Superfast Broadband Answers With Parliamentary Inquiry

Parliament Government London © anshar Shutterstock 2012

Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee expresses concern some homes and business might never get the connectivity they need

A parliamentary inquiry into the rollout of superfast broadband has been launched after MPs expressed concerns about how the ‘final five percent’ of homes and businesses not covered by commercial or government-assisted deployments are going to be reached.

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee is satisfied the government is on track to reach 95 percent of the UK population by 2017, but says an estimated 1.5 million properties, a fifth of them in urban areas, spread out across 70 percent of the UK landmass must still be reached.

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) has so far connected in excess of 2.4 million homes and businesses, while the government has issued more than 25,000 superfast broadband vouchers to SMBs, claiming the faster speeds will bring a range of social and economic benefits to citizens.

Parliamentary inquiry

parliament1A trial of ‘alternative’ technologies, such as LTE and satellite, is currently taking place to see what is most suitable for hard-to-reach areas not covered by BDUK, with a view to covering all of the UK by the end of the parliament.

But this, combined with the fact the government is forbidden from intervening in urban areas by European law, is not doing much to ease the fears of members of the committee.

“There is marked concern both in Parliament and among the general public that many individuals, households and businesses in these areas may never have access to adequate broadband and mobile services, and that is already having a serious impact on them and the communities around them,” it said.

The committee said its inquiry would determine what role Ofcom, the government and industry should play in connecting the final five percent, what challenges must be overcome and what technology might be used, the level of investment required and whether there is enough competition and return on investment.

Subject of investigation

Mobile coverage will also be assessed. The committee acknowledged the government has secured a legally binding pledge of £5 billion worth of combined investment from all four operators, but the inquiry will see how this is implemented.

“Proper digital connectivity is key both to the well-being of many communities and to Britain’s economic future,” said Jesse Norman, Conservative MP and chair of the committee. “Yet many people and businesses are unable to receive the digital access and services they need.  This inquiry is designed to find out exactly why that is, and how to fix it.”

Last week, Ofcom CEO Sharon White gave evidence to the committee, providing an update on the rollout of superfast broadband among a range of other subjects.

BDUK was part-funded by ‘top-slicing’ the BBC licence fee, a practice which will end before the end of this parliament. One alternative reportedly being considered by Chancellor George Osborne, is a broadband levy on ISPs – a move which is likely to be unpopular.

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