Working towards a better connected Britain
Working towards a better connected Britain

Broadband is an essential utility in the 21st century. A good internet connection can make all the difference in paying the bills, educating children, accessing services, and turning a profit.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought UK broadband infrastructure into sharp focus. I continue to be inundated by frustrated parents, teachers, businesses, and families – many with older parents – struggling to stay connected.

The facts:

  • 96% of all UK households accessed the internet in 2020
  • Only 8-10% of UK premises are connected to full-fibre broadband
  • Nearly two million adults were left without internet access during the pandemic, with 10 million children and dependents on expensive pay as you go mobile services. (source: The Good Things Foundation)
  • In 2019 Average UK speeds were 28Mpbs in rural areas compared to a UK average of 54.2Mbps.
  • Despite being the world’s fifth-largest economy, in 2018 Britain ranked 35th out of 37 countries assessed by the OECD for the proportion of fibre in its total fixed broadband infrastructure.
  • In the EU only Belgium, Cyprus and Greece have lower levels of full-fibre coverage than the UK.

The Problem
The Government have reduced broadband rollout targets several times in just over a year.

  1. During the Conservative Party leadership election the Prime Minister promised 100% full fibre by 2025
  2. The Government’s Manifesto at the 2019 general election rolled this promise back to ‘fibre and gigabit capable’ by 2025
  3. The 2019 Queen’s Speech rolled back even further to ‘accelerate the delivery of gigabit capable broadband’
  4. In the 2020 spending review the 100% target was reduced to 85%.

Far from ‘levelling-up’ our infrastructure, the Government are stuck buffering with their major downgrades.

What I’m doing:
Over Wyre has some of the biggest gaps in rural broadband connectivity in the UK. I’m proactively meeting with Openreach to monitor their Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) technology and Community Fibre Partnerships (CFPs) to fill some of these gaps in rural connectivity. I am also pushing the Government to include smaller Fibre To The Property (FTTP) providers such as Broadband For the Rural North (B4RN) in the gigabit voucher and grant schemes.

Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) delivers a broadband signal over fibre optic cables all the way from the central network to the street cabinet, where it is then carried over the traditional copper network to homes. The speed FTTC can deliver is limited by the length of the copper network that the signal has to travel and it usually works on lines up to 1.8km in length after the cabinet. Properties beyond this distance tend to not have good broadband speed, if any connection at all.

Community Fibre Partnerships (CFPs) see Openreach work with a local group of homes or businesses to bring superfast broadband to an area. Where possible they bring together funding from Local Authorities, Government voucher schemes and other grants to help make things affordable – and they contribute toward the cost.

I raised the issues of the Gigabit voucher scheme rollout in Parliament, with concerns that the scheme would not benefit rural broadband providers and smaller community interest companies like B4RN as much as larger national providers. I am glad to see that the Government have listened to these concerns, and B4RN do fall under the voucher scheme.

In rural areas, at the moment B4RN (a non-profit community benefit society) are often the only provider under the Government’s voucher scheme assisting communities to get entirely fibre optic gigabit broadband to the home.

Red Areas: Large Contract procurement areas
Red Areas: Large Contract procurement areas

What’s happening in this area
As the Government move into their next phase of their disappointingly slow and poorly-focussed rollout of rural broadband improvements, much of the Over Wyre area falls under their “Outside In Procurements” areas which they hope will attract larger broadband suppliers by combining Openreach exchange areas.

You can read more about the Government gigabit strategy here (PDF 3.4MB).

However there is much more that needs to be done than simply attracting larger broadband suppliers to rural areas.

The Solution
The Pandemic has shown that broadband is an essential utility, yet broadband operators don’t have the same powers as other utilities such as electricity or gas. Unlike those other utilities – there is no obligation on landlords to facilitate access.

Absentee and bad landlords can deprive consumers of decent broadband by not co-operating. Local authority housing, flexible or joint tenancies, and demoted tenancies need to be covered in the right to access gigabit broadband, along with homeowners.

Also, at the moment, the Government gigabit rollout can see consumers ‘locked in’ by a single broadband operator. One operator can ‘capture’ a building, roll out infrastructure to that building and basically capture the tenants there forever.

The Government state that an operator must not ‘inhibit the provision’ of a service by another operator. Labour want to see alternative operators being enabled and encouraged to provide services to consumers, removing these barriers to competition to make sure consumers can get the fairest prices and the best value for money.

Under the last Labour government the UK saw a revolution in first generation broadband access rising from 9% of households in 2000 to 50% in 2009, and we introduced the Digital Economy Act 2010 – targeting 100 per cent broadband coverage by 2020. We can build on this legacy.

Want support or more information?
If you would like to find out if your property or area may be eligible under the Government’s gigabit voucher scheme, you can search for your property on the Government website and find a Broadband provider here: https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk/

I will continue to support constituents on an individual basis where they are experiencing broadband issues, working with Service Providers (BT, Sky, Virgin etc.) as well as Openreach to resolve these where possible.

In the past year I have supported constituents to get re-connected where lines have been faulty or broken, and made representations to Openreach on their behalf where there have been connectivity issues outside of the property. Please get in touch if you think I can help by emailing cat.smith.mp@parliament.uk

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