Technology

Rural areas could be ‘stuck with slow broadband for years due to DCMS failings'

MPs called out ‘unachievable' Conservative election pledge of gigabit broadband across the entire country by 2025 which was later revised to 85%.

Those living in remote areas could be left with slow broadband for years to come due to a “litany of planning and implementation failures” within Government, a group of MPs has warned.

The Public Accounts Committee criticised the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for not being prepared to admit sooner it would not meet a Conservative election pledge of gigabit broadband connectivity across the entire country by 2025.

It was not until the November 2020 Spending Review that the Government revealed it was rowing back on the target, aiming for at least 85% instead.

That original target was “unachievable”, MPs said in their Improving Broadband report, calling for a “clear timeline” of what activities the department intends to complete and by when.

“We are increasingly concerned that those in rural areas may have to pay more and may reach gigabit broadband speeds late,” the report stated.

“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 committee is concerned that a reduced target of 85% will still be challenging to meet.

They also called out the Government for not allocating three-quarters of the £5 billion allocation to rollout gigabit broadband until after 2024-25.

Meanwhile, it accused the Department of being “vague” about the potential costs and delays from removing telecommunications equipment supplied by Huawei, which must be stripped from the UK’s 5G network by 2027 due to security risks.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “With the grim announcement that the country and economy will be locked down for months, the Government’s promises on digital connectivity are more important than ever.

“But due to a litany of planning and implementation failures at DCMS, those promises are slipping farther and farther out of reach – even worse news for the ‘rural excluded’ who face years trying to recover with substandard internet connectivity.

“For the foreseeable future, ever more of our lives is moving online, whether we like it or not.

“Government cannot allow digital inequality to continue to compound and exacerbate the economic inequality that has been so harshly exposed in the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It needs to be clear about timelines in each area so that businesses and individuals can plan for their digital future.”

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