MPs slam government for gigabit broadband and 5G rollout delays

The government has been criticised for failing to answer how it will meet its revised-down gigabit broadband plans and its 5G rollout.

Full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025 was a key Conservative manifesto pledge in the 2019 general election.

But the Tories softened their rhetoric on the stance over the course of 2020, saying they would go “as far as we possibly can by 2025” with Boris Johnson eventually committing £5bn to help ensure that at least 85 per cent of UK premises can access a gigabit-capable connection by the end of 2025.

The chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee Julian Knight has now said the government has failed to explain how it will even meet this target.

In the committee’s report, Broadband and the road to 5G, MPs warned that ministers risked failing to meet their latest, less ambitious target while also warning that the 5G roll-out risked repeating the legacy of mobile ‘not-spots’.

MPs on the committee said that DCMS Department itself had failed to adequately respond to a number of their recommendations and that key points have been left unanswered.

One question not addressed asked for a full assessment of how likely the Department considered it that the revised-down target would be met.

“We raised urgent questions in our report to government requesting that it set out detailed plans about how it would deliver on its revised-down target for gigabit-capable broadband and crucially, how likely it was to be met,” Knight said

“Ministers have failed to answer that key question, among others, and provided inadequate responses elsewhere.

“Today I have written to Secretary of State Oliver Dowden calling for a full response to our recommendations and to points that have gone unanswered. These are questions that cannot be avoided.”

Knight called on the government to respond by 1 April with more details on issues including the “extensive engagement” it had with the industry over the past year referred to by ministers, as well as a full assessment of how likely it is that its revised target will be met.

In January, the Public Accounts Committee warned that rural areas that cannot access superfast internet speeds will be “left even further behind” if the government fails to ramp up its broadband infrastructure plans.

Concerns over Huawei’s involvement in 5G infrastructure also caused delays to its roll-out in a move that one report said could cost the UK “billions”.

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