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Full-fibre broadband pledge to get ‘reality check’ from MPs

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The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) select committee is launching an inquiry into digital connectivity in the UK. The inquiry will include an examination of the 5G rollout and the government’s pledge to deliver full-fibre broadband to every home and business by 2025.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged that the government will deliver gigabit-speed broadband (although not necessarily full-fibre broadband) to the entire UK within five years, including setting aside £5bn to connect premises which are not commercially viable. This would significantly increase internet speeds across the country, particularly in underserved rural areas.

The inquiry will question how realistic the ambition is, what measures must be taken to achieve it and what it could mean for people and businesses.

“The delivery of full-fibre broadband is critical to the success of the UK, particularly the need to ensure that our businesses of the future are equipped with a reliable, future-proofed network no matter where they are based,” said Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS committee. “The government has said it wants to achieve this nationwide roll-out by 2025. We’ll be carrying out a reality check to find out what steps must be taken now if this target is to be reached.”

Johnson brought the gigabit-speed broadband target forward from 2033 to 2025 soon after entering Number 10 last year. However, questions have been raised about the feasibility of the 2025 target – the most ambitious promised by any major party in the recent general election – with some critics arguing that it is overly ambitious. Last September, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee warned that the pledge failed to “grasp the extent” of the extreme digital divide between urban and rural areas, with rural areas marginalised by poor broadband and mobile coverage.

The DMCS inquiry will also examine the challenges faced in rolling out 5G infrastructure across the country and what initiatives such as the Shared Rural Network – a £1bn collaboration between the four mobile operators and government to increase 4G coverage to rural areas to 92 per cent for all operators – mean for improving mobile connectivity in the UK.

While the government is taking decisions to ensure that the UK is among the first countries to access 5G (such as by permitting Huawei to play a role in providing equipment for 5G infrastructure) 4G remains unavailable in many parts of the country.

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