Boris Johnson’s promise of faster broadband is broken, say MPs | Telecommunications industry

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Boris Johnson’s promise to ‘upgrade’ the nation by bringing next-generation broadband to most homes by 2025 is under threat as rural dwellers are left behind in the internet revolution, according to a Parliament’s spending watchdog report.

The Public Accounts Committee report found the government was relying too heavily on companies, including BT Openreach and Virgin Media O2, to deliver on the key pledge in Johnson’s election manifesto to address the UK’s status as a as a global laggard in broadband speeds.

These companies focus on the least expensive and easiest to reach urban agglomerations across the UK. The government plan, drawn up by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, fails to deliver on its promise to find affordable solutions to connect people in rural areas and remote towns and villages.

“What DCMS knows very well is that it cannot rely on the private sector to deliver fast broadband to the most hard-to-reach, excluded and rural areas,” said Dame Meg Hillier, President of the CAP. “And despite its repeated promises to do just that, we are apparently one step closer to bridging the ‘great digital divide’ that is growing across the UK and addressing the social and economic inequalities it causes.”

At the end of last year, 47% of UK homes and premises had the potential to sign up for next-generation broadband. While the rollout plan means half of all city dwellers can get these speeds, only a quarter of those in rural areas have the option.

The huge demand for reliable, high-speed internet connections as millions of people have moved to remote and flexible home, work and school during the pandemic has increased pressure and scrutiny of government plans .

An initial promise from Johnson to deliver full fiber broadband to every UK home by 2025 was later expanded to include gigabit technology, which provides equally fast connections, but the PAC said it was not “not as scalable”, in order to achieve the goal.

The pledge to reach every home was later reduced to 85% of homes and premises, with the government only making available £1.2bn of a £5bn fund set up to connect rural homes up to one year before its 2025 deadline, which the PAC is not convinced. will be reached.

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“DCMS planning and project management shows all the signs of the previous rollout – the focus will continue to be on the easiest to reach areas and there is still no plan for the most difficult communities to achieve,” Hillier said. “It couldn’t really explain how broadband got as far as it did in this crucial national strategy. And incredibly, he still has no real plan to make the rest of the way to his downgraded goals.

The PAC pointed out that the longer-term goal of access for every household by 2030 still excludes around 134,000 premises in the hardest-to-reach areas who are not commercially viable. These “forgotten homes” are still unable to get even the 10 Mbps connection, considered the bare minimum to meet the needs of a modern family.

The prohibitive cost of reaching these premises by conventional methods means the government is considering alternative technologies such as satellite broadband to connect them.

“It is misleading to suggest that we are relying on the commercial sector to achieve our goal, which we remain on track to achieve,” a DCMS spokesperson said. “We are investing £5 billion to ensure hard-to-reach areas can get gigabit speeds. Our policies and investments also mean that 97% of premises can access superfast broadband, which meets people’s current needs and has helped us through the pandemic.

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