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MPs call for 'not-spot summit' in Commons broadband debate

Tuesday, October 13th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The government is being urged to hold a ‘not-spot summit’ to find ways of improving the UK’s broadband and mobile infrastructure.

MPs debated the issue in the House of Commons yesterday following a motion by Matt Warman, MP for Boston and Skegness and a former technology journalist for the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Warman's motion to look at variations in the rollout of fixed and mobile superfast broadband across the UK included a call for the government to host a not-spot summit to consider ways to tackle this issue.

Outlining variations in the rolllout across the UK, Mr Warman said: “It is likely that by the end of 2017, 95% or 96% of British premises will be connected, but the one in 25 or one in 24 premises that will not be connected are not evenly spread across the country.

“Without serious investment in helping to connect the final 5%, we risk isolating not only individuals but entire communities, and splitting the super-connected and those for whom the 21st century economy is another country.

“17% of the UK still does not even have the option of a superfast broadband connection, and 8% of the country cannot receive the 10Mbps connections that Ofcom says are required for mainstream services, and 500,000 still lack even basic broadband.”

MPs from around the country in both urban and rural areas took the opportunity to mention communities in their constituencies that are struggling with poor internet speeds, with many suggesting the issue is creating a "digital divide".

Members also gave their thoughts on the superfast broadband rollout being overseen by the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme and issues including the potential split of BT and Openreach.

Mr Warman said he is not sure whether the BDUK rollout would be better if BT was to be split from Openreach, and said while regulation needs to be "simpler and more rigorous", Ofcom should assess what the impact of breaking up BT might be in the short-term.

'Piddling European target'

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."

Mr Vaizey also referred to the government's drive to simplify planning laws to allow for faster infrastructure development, and called for "a bit of give and take" from local councils.

"Councils and local communities have to accept that the infrastructure has to be built. We might need to have taller masts and some structures in rural settings."

He said that now BT has announced the rollout of G.fast technology, he was confident that 10m homes will get speeds of 300Mbps or more over the next five years, and added that the UK has the fastest rollout and take-up of 4G in the world.

"It is no secret that we are looking at a universal service obligation, and we will not be tied to some piddling European target of 5Mbps," he added.

"No, when we look at a universal service obligation we will look at a British universal service obligation to deliver the kind of British broadband speeds that British citizens and businesses require."

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