A new report has warned that the UK will miss its 2025 target to roll-out full fibre broadband.
Based on oral evidence taken from December 9 from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the parliamentary spending watchdog report warned that failures mean hard to reach premises will be struggling with slow broadband for many years to come.
In particular, the report placed the blame on a series of government failures for the delay.
“We are concerned that the Department has yet to make any meaningful progress in delivering the policy and legislative changes deemed essential by industry if it is to achieve rapid roll-out,” the report stated.
According to a pledge by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in December 2019, the UK would connect 100% of its premises to gigabit-speed broadband by 2025. The UK Gigabit Programme received a £5 billion commitment by then Chancellor Sajid Javid.
At present, over 95% of UK premises can access broadband speeds of at least 30 Mbps, according to Ofcom. However, 1.6 million UK premises, mainly in rural areas, are still unable to access superfast speeds.
The plan was recently dealt a blow as the project was scaled back to 85% coverage by 2025. The budget for the project remained the same, though the portion of that allocated for 2021 is lower.
In addition, only £1.2 billion was allocated until 2024, with the remaining £3.8 billion set to be allocated for after 2025.
Now, the new report claims that the not only is original target of 100% unachievable, the new 85% target is unlikely. The report also criticised delaying over three quarters of the funding until after 2025.
The report noted that the DCMS “is still developing its £5 billion programme to subsidise roll-out to the hardest to reach 20% of the UK’s 31 million premises and could not tell us when it intends to deliver major milestones, such as the letting of contracts.
“We are increasingly concerned that those in rural areas may have to pay more, and may reach gigabit broadband speeds late. Given the impact of covid-19, the Department must do more to protect those with limited access to the internet.
“We remain unconvinced that, if and when rural users finally do get gigabit broadband, they will enjoy the same choice of service provider and the same protections as their urban counterparts.”
The report made several recommendations to improve the rollout of the UK Gigabit Programme.
It said that DCMS should identify potential risks and barriers and provide a clear plan for how and when they will be addressed.
The report also called for a clear timeline of what activities the DCMS intends to complete and by when to achieve its revised targets.
In addition, with the report warning that rural areas are most at risk, it called for the DCMS to establish which properties do not yet have superfast broadband and when they can expect to receive gigabit capable broadband.
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Connecting the entire UK to high-speed broadband has been a major goal for both the UK and Scottish governments. Since the onset of the coronavirus, the importance of enabling remote working with better connectivity, especially in rural areas, has risen.
The importance of high-speed and reliable internet access is particularly important due to the shift towards remote education. Children without internet access could find themselves left behind and the digital divide between rich and poor worsened.
In addition, rural areas are another major concern, as these are some of the most difficult to connect areas in the UK. The Scottish and UK governments combined their voucher schemes recently to incentivise companies to connect these areas, as the high cost of installing broadband infrastructure would make them unprofitable for private businesses to do the work alone.