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Government's satellite broadband scheme branded 'inadequate stunt'

Thursday, January 21st 2016 by Ellen Branagh

Just 24 people have signed up to the government’s subsidised satellite broadband scheme, MPs were told today.

Shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah branded the scheme an “inadequate stunt” that would leave millions of people digitally excluded.

Answering questions in the Commons, digital minister Ed Vaizey told MPs that the scheme was underway, meaning people who they can’t get at least 2Mbps can take advantage of subsidised satellite broadband installation scheme.

But Ms Onwurah, a former telecoms engineer and MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne, questioned the value of the government-funded programme.

“In early December the minister cast himself as Santa Claus announcing, and I quote, a Christmas present for UK homes and businesses, £60m to provide satellite provision for those failed by his superslow broadband crawl-out,” she said.

“As of Monday a grand total of £8,000 had been spent with only 24 people benefitting from his supposed gift.

“Was it the fear of seeing the honourable member coming down their chimney that put people off, or the fact that this is an inadequate stunt designed to fob off his backbenchers and leaving millions digitally excluded for many Christmases to come?”

Thanking Ms Onwurah for her “bah humbug question”, Mr Vaizey said he was delighted the government’s superfast broadband rollout programme has reached around 90% of the country.

He said: “We cast aside the Scrooge-like 2Mbps target that Labour had for the country as a whole but we did promise everyone guaranteed speeds of 2Mps and that’s what we’ve done by providing subsidised satellite services.”

'Absolutely fundamental'

In December, the government announced the launch of its satellite broadband installation scheme, saying it would help homes and businesses in “the most remote areas with the slowest speeds”.

The scheme means up to 300,000 homes and businesses without access to speeds of more than 2Mbps get a contribution from the government to fund the satellite installation.

They have to pay the monthly charges themselves but the government said the extra funding could reduce the cost of installing the service by around £350.

In November, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged that everyone in the country would have the legal right to a broadband connection of 10Mbps as part of the introduction of a new Universal Service Obligation (USO).

Mr Cameron said: “Access to the internet shouldn’t be a luxury; it should be a right – absolutely fundamental to life in 21st century Britain.

“Just as our forebears effectively brought gas, electricity and water to all, we’re going to bring fast broadband to every home and business that wants it."

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