Scaled-back broadband plans ‘a blow to rural communities’

Internet providers have criticised the UK government for scaling back its ambitions to deliver faster broadband speeds to every part of the country.

The Conservative Party pledged in its 2019 manifesto to deliver full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business by 2025, bringing its goal forward by eight years. This pledge included £5bn funding to connect premises which are not commercially viable.

This target had been characterised by the telecommunications industry as highly ambitious, with calls for regulatory changes to make such a rapid rollout possible.

Now the target has been adjusted to “a minimum of 85 per cent gigabit-capable coverage by 2025”.

The National Infrastructure Strategy publication states more than a third of UK premises now have access to gigabit-capable infrastructure, while more than half will have access by next year. It said that the government will “seek to accelerate roll-out further to get as close to 100 per cent as possible”.

The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has called for clarity on how the £5bn budget pledged to support broadband deployment will be allocated, after Chancellor Rishi Sunak only committed £1.2bn in this week’s Spending Review.

“Today’s announcement scaling back the government’s ambitions for supporting broadband rollout in the hardest-to-reach areas is a blow to rural communities,” said ISPA chair Andrew Glover. “Instead of aiming for nationwide coverage, government now expects coverage of 85 per cent and with only a quarter of the previously promised funding allocated until 2025.

“This will not stop providers from continuing to press ahead with their commercial rollout plans, but it puts an even greater emphasis on tackling the regulatory and practical barriers that make rollout more difficult than it should be.

“As our experiences over 2020 have proved, our broadband infrastructure is fundamental to propping up the UK’s economy in periods of lockdown; we urge the government to ensure that this policy pivot does not lead to longer-term digital exclusion of those in harder-to-reach areas.”

Dan Howdle, consumer telecommunications analyst at cable.co.uk, commented that the revised target for 85 per cent coverage is still “shooting for the Moon”.

“If achieved you can be sure that the remaining 15 per cent will be the same 15 per cent that already have the poorest connectivity […] it is certainly not good news for those homes struggling to get workable broadband speeds as things currently stand.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles