Boris Johnson’s campaign promise to connect the entire country at peak broadband speeds by 2025 has been called “ridiculously unrealistic” after Parliament’s spending controls warned rural internet users were at risk. to be left behind by slow progress.
The comments from Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, followed a report by the National Audit Office that said the 2025 target was “difficult” and warned that these rural areas were at greater risk of being left behind.
The government launched a £ 5 billion plan to subsidize the upgrade of telecommunications networks to full fiber from old copper networks in rural areas in September 2019. The funds were designed to connect the Remaining 20% of the country, but little progress has been made in delivery. on the plane, according to senior industry executives.
In a report to be released on Friday, the NAO said only 27% of homes can connect to Gigabit speed broadband, and only 14% to full fiber lines, which is one of the lowest levels in the world. Europe.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “To realize the government’s vision of achieving nationwide gigabit connectivity, the Department (for digital, culture, media and sports) must manage the tension between sticking to a tough schedule and serving those who need it most. Failure to do so risks leaving the most difficult-to-reach areas further behind and widening the urban-rural divide. “
Ms Hillier, whose committee is examining whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth, said the government has not done enough to ensure rural areas hold up.
“The new promise that gigabit broadband will be available almost anywhere by 2025 is laughably unrealistic. This risks deepening the digital divide by encouraging suppliers to re-focus on picking the fruit at hand, ”she said.
£ 12 billion
Amount that BT has committed to upgrade its network
Openreach, the engineering arm of BT, is stepping up the pace of its full fiber rollout as Virgin Media invests in more fiber. Smaller “altnets” such as Community Fiber and Zzoomm have raised hundreds of millions of pounds to expand full fiber networks in pockets across the country.
However, industry leaders have warned that rural areas risk missing out unless the government moves swiftly towards revising its £ 5bn plan.
A spokesperson for DCMS said 96% of homes had access to “super-fast” broadband. “We are now leading the deployment of even faster gigabit broadband. . . We’re not only helping the industry to speed up their work by removing barriers to faster deployment, but we’re also investing £ 5 billion so that the hardest to reach areas aren’t left behind. “
BT has pledged £ 12bn to upgrade its network, but warned the government could miss the 2025 target within eight years. Only 70% of the country will be modernized on time, he said. He called for policy changes to reduce the cost of deploying fiber by lowering corporate tariffs and reforming planning laws to speed up the process.
Meanwhile, Ofcom has opened an investigation into BT for potentially citing excessive amounts to connect people in very remote areas.
The company has an obligation to connect houses to a high-speed connection if the cost is less than £ 3,400, but some residents in very rural areas have been given more money than their house is worth for the connection. The regulator said it was concerned BT could comply with regulatory conditions by providing these quotes.
Matt Warman, the DCMS minister for broadband, highlighted a number of cases in parliament last week, including the Scottish island of Iona which had been cited over £ 1million for a connection .
A BT spokeswoman said the company “strongly disagrees” with Ofcom’s assessment, but admitted that a new approach, potentially using the OneWeb satellite that the government has backed , was necessary.
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