Committee chair cites ‘litany of failures’ from DCMS as cause
The UK government is likely to miss its revised target to provide 85 per cent of the country with full-fibre broadband by 2025, according to a report from the Public Accounts Committee, the parliamentary spending watchdog.
In a report released on 8 January, the committee said that the government’s failure to achieve this target will exacerbate digital inequality at a crucial time, as families with connectivity issues have to contend with the latest national lockdown.
The government’s 85 per cent target was revised down from the Conservative Party’s 2019 General Election pledge of 100 per cent last November in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spending review. Additionally, of the £5 billion earmarked for the rollout, only a quarter is budgeted to be spent by 2024.
In its report, the committee criticised this policy, and cited a “litany of failures” on the part of DCMS in pursuing the rollout.
DCMS also came under fire from the committee for failing to adequately consider the challenges faced by rural communities, failing to give reassurance that local authorities will get additional funding at a time of pandemic-induced financial pressure, and failure to deliver the requisite policy changes to help achieve rapid rollout, including changes to planning regulations and requirements for new build properties.
Committee chair Meg Hillier MP 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.”
According to Ofcom’s most recent Connected Nations report from December 2020, just over five million (18 per cent) UK homes have access to full-fibre connectivity.
In response to the report’s findings, CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch said he believed the revised target was still achievable, with CityFibre’s own rollout set to reach up to eight million premises.
“The PAC is right that the revised 2025 target is both challenging and vital to meet but we believe that by working closely with Government and Ofcom it’s achievable,” he said.
A DCMS spokesperson told The Guardian: “Gigabit capable broadband is being rolled out rapidly – from one in 10 households in 2019 to one in three households today. We expect that half of all households will have access to gigabit speeds by the end of this year, and the UK is deploying at a faster build rate than comparable countries.
“This is evidence of the progress we have made to support the private sector and reduce barriers to roll out. We will take further rapid steps this year alongside the investment being made as part of our record £5 billion UK Gigabit Programme, which will focus on ensuring the hardest to reach 20% of the country is not left behind.”