Parliament’s spending watchdog has concluded that a catalogue of government failures will result in Boris Johnson failing to deliver on his promise of connecting the country with “turbocharged” broadband by 2025.
The public accounts committee criticised the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for not making any “meaningful progress” towards achieving the rollout of gigabit broadband on time.
MPs have warned that thousands of businesses and homes, especially in rural areas, could find themselves without fast broadband for many years.
Johnson first suggested the 2025 target back in June 2019 as part of his campaign for the Conservative party leadership. In his Daily Telegraph column, he wrote that Theresa May’s target of a rollout by 2033 was “laughably unambitious”.
“If we want to unite our country and our society, we should commit now to delivering full fibre to every home in the land not in the mid-2030s – but in five years at the outside,” Johnson wrote.
The Conservatives pledged in the 2019 general election to roll out gigabit broadband across the whole of the UK by 2025 but backtracked in November and said that the target was 85% instead.
The latest report suggests that the original target was unachievable, and casts doubt on whether the 85% target could be met either.
“We are increasingly concerned that those in rural areas may have to pay more and may reach gigabit broadband speeds late,” said the report.
“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.”
A spokesperson for the DCMS claimed that the report was inaccurate:
“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 £5bn UK Gigabit Programme, which will focus on ensuring the hardest to reach 20% of the country is not left behind.”
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