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Chi Onwurah: Government has failed those who still can't get broadband

Friday, October 30th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

It is “absolutely unacceptable” that some communities still don’t have access to broadband, the shadow digital minister has said.

Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for culture and the digital economy, told the Parliament and Internet Conference 2015 that the situation was down to a “complete failure” by the government to address the problem.

In a keynote speech at the conference yesterday, Ms Onwurah said technology should be a democratiser, not something just available to “a lucky few”.

Including both infrastructure and digital skills in her speech, Ms Onwurah described the “unfair” situation where constituents had been forced to use food banks because they were unable to complete mandatory job searches online.

She told the conference the UK needs a long-term strategy for investment in “next generation infrastructure” to make sure people don’t get left behind.

“It is absolutely unacceptable in 2015 that there are still communities who have no access to copper broadband,” she said.

“And that’s a complete failure of the last government and this government for not addressing it.”

Ms Onwurah (pictured) said looking forward 10 years it is important to work towards universal access to what is becoming the fourth utility, adding: “We need to see fibre to the home as the ultimate end point.”

The shadow digital minister’s attack on the UK’s broadband infrastructure echoes her comments at a Commons debate on rural broadband earlier this month.

Speaking for the first time in her role as shadow minister, she told MPs at the debate that despite being “a developed nation with aspirations to lead the digital world”, the UK is in a “dire state”.

“It is ludicrous that the government has not been able to provide what has become the fourth utility for most people,” she told the Commons.

Falling further behind

“This government attacks the right to strike for working people but ministers have withdrawn their labour when it comes to broadband.”

Ms Onwurah accused the government of a failure to deliver on promises that “lacked ambition to begin with”, and said Britain is falling “further and further behind our competitors”.

“What we need from government is a vision for market-led, future-proof, universal digital infrastructure.

“That ultimately means fibre to the premises. It means real investment. That will not come about on its own.

“Ministers need to set out their vision for our digital infrastructure, tell us how we are going to get there, and then they need to make sure it happens.”

During the debate, digital minister Ed Vaizey defended the government's work in rolling out superfast broadband.

"We said that we would deliver superfast broadband to 90% of homes and businesses in the country by the end of 2015. That is exactly what we will do," he said.

"We have said that we will get to 95% of homes and businesses by the end of 2017. I am confident that we will deliver that as well.

"I am all for targets but let us have some delivery. We have a realistic target that we have hit time and again, and we will continue to do so.

"We have passed superfast broadband to more than 3m homes and businesses, and when the next figures come out it will be close to 4m. We must also deal with the last 5%, and by the end of this year we will set out our plans.”

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