Delivering gigabit-capable broadband – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: DCMS recall (Broadband)

Date Published: 19 January 2022

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Good internet connectivity is critical to everyday life and economic growth—even more so because of the changes in work and education that have been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. This makes the rapid roll out of Project Gigabit vital. In 2020, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport accepted that its original plan for delivering nationwide gigabit broadband across the country by 2025 was unachievable and revised its target. Yet, despite revising this to 85% coverage by 2025, we are still not convinced that the Department will deliver on time. For some time now this Committee has pressed the Department on answering precise questions on the timetables and milestones to achieve this target. Central to this is knowing exactly when new gigabit infrastructure contracts will be signed and how they will be rolled out. Without such a timetable and clear answers to these questions, we cannot fully understand how they will meet the 2025 target.

Proof of this can be found in the fact the Department has made little tangible progress in delivering internet connectivity beyond that achieved by the private sector. It reports that the proportion of premises in the United Kingdom with access to gigabit broadband leapt from 40% to 57% between May and October 2021. However, while recognising that this is largely due to Virgin Media O2 upgrading its cable network, the Department is unable to fully explain why this has occurred.

We warned earlier this year that failures with the rollout of superfast broadband across the UK risked exacerbating digital and economic inequality. Although the Department now states that it plans to reach nationwide coverage for gigabit-capable broadband by 2030, it has no detailed plan in place for reaching communities where it is not commercially viable to do so. Moreover, its goal of full coverage by 2030 does not cover the very hardest to reach areas, which include around 134,000 premises. The announcements of commercial investment plans by existing and new providers are welcome and reduce the potential need for taxpayer funded rollout. However, we are concerned that the Department’s focus on accelerating coverage through rollout by commercial operators rather than by prioritising those areas it knows are hardest to reach risks some of the areas that need improved connectivity most being once again left behind.