Appendix: Government response |
The Government welcomes the Environment Food and
Rural Affairs Committee's report on 'Rural broadband and digital-only
services'. We recognise that fast, reliable broadband internet
access is essential for all rural homes and communities throughout
the country to benefit from online services, to help rural businesses
to grow and compete globally, and that it is important in creating
a fairer society. More than 80% of the UK is already able to access
superfast services of at least 24Mbps, with services being made
available to 40,000 extra premises every week.
The Committee expresses concern that rural areas
are being left behind and that delivery timescales have slipped.
We would like to reassure the Committee that the timetable is
on track. We are on course to achieve 90% UK coverage of superfast
broadband by early 2016 and 95% UK coverage by the end of 2017.
At the same time we are exploring a range of technologies capable
of delivering superfast speeds in the final 5% hardest to reach
areas through our market test pilot programme and we will review
the evidence from those pilots later this year.
The Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy
published alongside the Budget announced a package of measures
to support the UK's digital communications infrastructure. This
included further support for broadband delivery in rural areas,
including looking to raise the Universal Service Obligation to
5Mbps and subsidising the costs of installing superfast capable
satellite services in some of the most hard to reach areas.
The EFRA report considered the move to an online
only Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) system for rural payments.
The report notes the Rural Payments Agency has taken a number
of important steps to ensure that those with poor broadband speeds
or those that lack the necessary IT skills can access the new
service through a range of support opportunities.
1. We have been keen throughout this inquiry to
make sure that enough focus is placed on those who have no access
to superfast broadband. There is a risk in the current approach
that improving service for those who already have it will leave
even further behind the 5% of premises who have none. There is
a risk of poor rural broadband availability causing harm to farm
businesses and the rural economy. It is essential that those who
are 'hardest-to-reach' are given priority. (Paragraph 7)
The Government fully recognises the vital importance
of fast and reliable broadband to all businesses and communities
and to a growing economy.
The Government is committed to providing 95% coverage
of superfast broadband by December 2017 and to ensuring that all
remaining premises have access to speeds of at least 2Mbps by
the end of 2015.
We are working to ensure the most hard to reach premises
are not left behind. Our seven pilot projects are trialling solutions
for rolling out in the hardest to reach areas. These pilots take
account of the conclusions from BDUK's market engagement in 2013
which found that such areas may need solutions with different
technology and operating models than those used to roll-out to
the rest of the UK.
In addition, as announced in the Budget, we will
launch a scheme with local bodies across the UK later this year
to subsidise the costs of installing superfast capable satellite
services for those currently on the lowest speeds in the hardest
to reach areas. This will build on the Government's commitment
that there will be at least 95% superfast broadband coverage by
2017 by offering a superfast capable solution to up to a further
1% of premises.
Alongside this, the mobile industry will make 4G
available to 98% of the population over the next couple of years,
which will revolutionise mobile broadband in rural areas.
2. Repeated changes in target dates for rollout
of superfast broadband inevitably reduce confidence that coverage
will be achieved on time. They also leave those in the hardest-to-reach
areas uncertain as to when their businesses will be able fully
to engage with digital practices. Beyond business purposes, householders,
particularly in rural communities, are being left behind in accessing
online services that most of the country can take for granted.
Activities as diverse as children's homework, online tax returns,
and simply watching television now depend significantly on good
online access. (Paragraph 13)
The Government is committed to ensuring 90% coverage
of superfast broadband by early 2016 and 95% coverage by December
2017. The National Audit Office memorandum of 28 January 2015
confirmed we are on track to achieve these targets. In addition
we will deliver a universal service commitment to give all remaining
premises access to speeds of at least 2Mbps by the end of 2015.
The Budget commitment to look at raising the Universal
Service Obligationthe legal entitlement to a basic servicefrom
dial up speeds of 28.8kbps to 5Mbps would mean that consumers
gain a legal right to request installation of 5Mbps capable services
at an affordable price.
3. We were concerned to hear BT tell us
that the present target of 95% of premises receiving superfast
broadband by 2017 may slip. Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) must
make it clear that the target date must be met. A target date
for when the last 5% of premises will obtain access to superfast
broadband coverage must be published. (Paragraph 14)
The Government is committed to ensuring 95% superfast
broadband coverage by December 2017. The seven market test pilots
are exploring a range of technologies capable of delivering superfast
speeds in the hardest to reach areas and we will review the evidence
from those pilots later this year to inform future options.
Alongside this, the scheme to subsidise the costs
of installing superfast capable satellite services for those currently
on the lowest speeds in the hardest to reach areas will be launched
later this year. This is to be funded jointly by central and local
government using funding already in place to deliver the Government's
Universal Service Commitment. The scheme will provide subsidised
installation and equipment costs with customers paying the market
rate for monthly subscription. Costs of satellite services will
be dependent upon data usage.
4. For many services, 2 Megabits per second
(Mbps) is already an outdated figure, and 10 Mbps is increasingly
recommended as a suitable USC for standard provision. The Government
must reassess whether the 2 Mbps Universal Service Commitment
remains a valid one. (Paragraph 20)
The Government has no plans to change the 2Mbps universal
service commitment for delivery by the end of 2015. However, many
of the premises which are not yet scheduled to gain access to
superfast broadband will have speeds higher than 2Mbps.
The Government is looking to raise the Universal
Service Obligation from dial-up speeds to 5 Mbps to ensure
that no one is left behind as faster speeds become available and
are more widely used. The Government will consult on this change
early in the next Parliament.
5. Millions of pounds are being invested in the
rollout of superfast broadband at 24 Megabits per second. Within
three years of the expected delivery date, however, that speed
will no longer be considered 'superfast' by European standards.
The Government's definition of 24Mbps for superfast
broadband is based on the fact that speeds above this level can
only be delivered using Next Generation Access technology. The
European definition of 30Mbps has no specific technical or user
basis for it. Most premises which can receive speeds over 24Mbps
will also be able to receive speeds above the level of the European
definition. The Government's rollout is future proofed. It is
a requirement of the broadband framework contract that solutions
have an upgrade path; for example, fibre to the cabinet could
be upgraded to fibre to the premises if needed.
In addition, the Digital Communications Infrastructure
Strategy sets out the long term vision for the UK and announced
a new ambition that ultrafast broadband of at least 100 Megabits
per second should become available to nearly all UK premises.
This will be supported by market delivery and government action
to remove barriers to investment and reduce red tape. This will
ensure that the UK remains among the best connected nations in
6. Councils need access to timely data from BT
that allows them accurately to monitor take-up of broadband. Equally,
they need access to timely data from BT about planned broadband
coverage and speed. It has been argued that distributing information
about broadband coverage on a postcode by postcode basis can be
misleading. An 'enabled' postcode does not necessarily mean that
each premise within the postcode is enabled. (Paragraph 25)
Councils are provided with quarterly data from BT
on take-up both across the local authority area as a whole and
at ward level. In relation to planned broadband coverage, the
Government has encouraged all local authorities to publish roll-out
plans and postcode checkers to at least 7 digit postcode level,
and latest information is available on local authority websites.
Publishing information to address level runs the risk of being
misleading as the precise coverage of planned deployments will
not be firm until implementation takes place.
7. We are surprised that no assessment of
the first phase of contracts with BT has been published before
the phase two and three contracts are signed. Phase two contracts
being signed must include provisions to ensure that local councils
and BT keep local communities up-to-date with planned broadband
coverage and speed. Information about rollout should be delivered
on a premise-by-premise basis as opposed to by postcode.
The Government undertook extensive market engagement
before commencing the phase two procurement process. No other
supplier was identified which had the capacity, capability and
commitment to deliver at national level. The Government therefore
continued with the delivery model from the phase one programme,
which allows Local Bodies to lead on procurements and to test
the local market if they believe other suppliers are able to deliver
at that level.
As a condition of their funding for the phase two
projects, local authorities will be required to provide public
information on roll-out plans to 7 digit postcode level. Publishing
information to address level runs the risk of being misleading
given the uncertainties involved before deployment takes place.
8. Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) is an efficient,
cost-effective method of improving broadband in areas where premises
are located close to their local street cabinet. However, this
'one-size-fits-all' approach to broadband delivery does not take
into account the varied topography across the 44 local areas receiving
broadband upgrade. FTTC allows those within a short distance of
a local cabinet to experience the benefit of an upgrade to superfast
broadband but can leave those already a long distance from the
cabinet, and therefore experiencing slower broadband, with limited
or no material change in service. (Paragraph 31)
We recognise that a mix of technologies will be needed
to deliver superfast broadband throughout the UK. A wide range
of technology solutions are possible to achieve the Government's
objective, including fixed, fixed-wireless, mobile and satellite,
as well as Fibre to the Cabinet. As one technology choice will
not be suitable for all circumstances, the Government's approach
to delivery remains technology neutral.
We are testing alternative technologies and operating
models through our market test pilot programme. Projects are testing
superfast satellite, fixed wireless and hybrid schemes to test
their suitability for roll-out.
9. Satellite technology provides a potential alternative
to those in remote areas where fixed-line delivery of broadband
is impracticable or can achieve only very low speeds. However,
it will not fill all the gaps. Satellite technology is not widely
developed on a commercial scale in the UK and the technology itself
can suffer from delay and reliability issues. (Paragraph 35)
Satellite could potentially have an important part
to play in the mix of solutions available particularly in reaching
the most remote rural communities. The Government is funding two
superfast satellite projects as part of its market test pilots.
The pilots will provide evidence of the reliability of the technology
and customer experience, including issues around contention and
10. The fact that Fibre to the Cabinet is not
a suitable solution in every circumstance or every community means
that alternative solutions, such as wider satellite coverage or
Fibre to the Remote Node, are necessary. Alternative solutions
are required not only to ensure that the current commitments of
basic and superfast broadband are met but also to ensure that
the infrastructure being deployed is future proof and able to
meet demands for increasing broadband speeds. (Paragraph 38)
The Government agrees with the Committee that technologies
other than Fibre to the Cabinet will be required in some locations.
The seven market test pilots are testing solutions capable of
delivering superfast broadband, including satellite solutions,
in areas not covered by current programmes. The superfast capable
satellite scheme in the hardest to reach areas will help people
currently on the lowest speeds. We also continue to monitor other
technological advances by industry. For example, fibre to the
remote node is currently being tested by BT and this and other
technologies can help fill gaps in coverage.
11. The Rural Payments Agency have taken a number
of important steps to ensure that those with poor broadband speeds
can access its new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) application
software. It deserves credit for seeking to ensure a 'soft landing'
for the new system, but, given the difficulties experience last
time round, and in particular given the variable state of broadband
access in rural areas, judgment must be reserved on the effectiveness
of its preparations until they have been tested in action. (Paragraph
12. The RPA must have a contingency plan
in case the new online-only CAP application system proves difficult
to use for farmers with limited broadband capability. The new
software has not yet been tested by the number of users who will
access the site in May, and some of those doing so will be using
online services for the first time. The contingency plan should
be able to respond to the software not functioning at the level
required or with users not being able effectively to access the
software. (Paragraph 45)
On 19 March, the RPA announced steps to ensure that
farmers and their agents can complete their Basic Payment Scheme
(BPS) claims on time. The core system for online applications
and the registration portal continues to function effectively
and we will be asking the remaining 15% of farmers who haven't
registered, to do so online. However, the interface that farmers
use to access the core system has not performed reliably, so for
this claim year, the RPA will be offering farmers and their agents
the use of established forms and processed to complete their applications.
The RPA will then input this data on to the system. Apart from
registering, farmers will not be asked to enter any further data
online now. Data that has already been entered onto the system
has been saved and will be used. Farmers still need to register
using the online Rural Payments service to begin the process of
making their claim. So far 86% of farm businesses have successfully
done this. It remains the only way that farmers and their agents
can register to make a claim so the remaining 14% are urged to
13. We recommend that the level of privacy
in Digital Support Centres for those making CAP applications should
be comparable to that in a bank. (Paragraph 49)
Visits to the RPA support centres are by appointment
only. This is to ensure that we can fully support our customers
and to provide high standards of privacy.
14. Support to access online-only systems
must be available not only in the first few months of the CAP
application, but also in subsequent months and years, allowing
sufficient time for planning training needs and bearing in mind
the farming calendar. (Paragraph 52)
The Government, in particular Defra and the RPA,
has committed to providing ongoing support where required. The
Rural Payments service will capture additional information in
the first year of the Basic Payment Scheme which will make future
The RPA already has in place a helpline with trained
RPA officials. The Government is also already working with a range
of trusted third parties to provide support; increase IT skills
and capabilities; and provide access to higher speed broadband.
Rural broadband policy
15. The allocation of funding between urban and
rural areas is greatly unbalanced. Those who live in urban areas
have on average higher percentage coverage of superfast broadband,
coupled with access to voucher schemes which can subsidise access.
Rural areas are lagging behind. Those in poorly connected areas
are sometimes asked to pay twice: once through their taxes for
the Government-funded Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme and
potentially again from their own pockets if the BDUK programme
does not reach them. (Paragraph 58)
The Government is providing funding of £780
million to support superfast broadband delivery in areas that
will not otherwise gain coverage through commercial rollout. This
funding is being provided by people in all parts of the UK including
those who live in urban areas and who will not gain any benefit
from the additional coverage. Together with local match funding,
this will ensure availability of superfast broadband to 95% of
UK premises, with the remainder having access to standard broadband
with speeds of at least 2Mbps. For the final 5% of the UK which
will not be reached under the current programme, we are exploring
the costs and challenges associated with roll-out in these areas
to inform future decisions.
Up to £150 million has been committed to the
Super-Connected Cities Programme to support enhanced connectivity
for SMEs. Under this programme, a voucher scheme is available
towards the costs of connections for businesses. The purpose of
this scheme is to stimulate business demand for superfast broadband
take-up in those areas where the market is currently providing
infrastructure capacity. Funding for rural areas therefore vastly
outweighs the funding provided for the cities programme.
16. We recommend the introduction of a voucher
scheme, similar to that available in cities, for those who live
in areas with no access to fixed-line broadband or where they
are unable to access a minimum of 2 Mbps broadband. The vouchers
should subsidise the cost of satellite broadband access for those
eligible. (Paragraph 59)
The Government is currently developing its plans
for delivery of its commitment that all premises will have access
to standard broadband with speeds of at least 2Mbps by the end
of 2015. Within this, eligible premises will have access to satellite
services which can provide superfast broadband speeds.
17. Fibre to the Cabinet does not offer a solution
to all premises. Alternative technologies must be investigated
and it is encouraging that the Government is now investing in
this research. It is disappointing that research into solutions
for hardest-to-reach areas has taken so long. (Paragraph 63)
The Government notes the Committee's disappointment
that it has taken so long for solutions to become available for
the hardest to reach areas. In June last year, following extensive
market consultation and a procurement process, the eight market
test pilots were announced to explore delivery solutions which
could be used in these areas. The results of the feasibility reports
were published on 9 February and seven of the pilot projects are
now proceeding into the deployment phase.
18. The Innovation Fund is the first step
to providing superfast coverage to the last 5%. The results of
the pilot test must be published and the most suitable schemes
rolled out nationally. (Paragraph 64)
Pilot feasibility reports and a summary document
have been published and are available on GOV.UK at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/superfast-broadband-programme-phase-3.
Each of the seven schemes now moving into the deployment phase
evidence about the cost and challenges of delivering superfast
speeds in these hardest to reach areas.
capacity and capability in the market, and increase the market's
knowledge of State aid requirements, by sharing the pilot findings
as widely as possible.
evidence about expected levels of take-up in hardest to reach
areas, and how it can be incentivised.
how different technologies perform in the field, and collect feedback
on customer experience of those technologies.
The Government will review and publish further evidence
gathered from the pilots later this year, and will consider the
economic and social case for further government action in this
1 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-digital-communications-infrastructure-strategy Back