Boris Johnson is being warned that his pledge of full fibre broadband connections “for all by 2025” cannot be achieved without huge investment and controversial legal changes
The Government must “release a statement as soon as possible” to explain how it plans to deliver the promise in just eight years’ time, at a cost of up to £33 billion, a Commons committee has said.
The new prime minister made the pledge as a central plank of his campaign to succeed Theresa May, but little more has been heard since his victory in late July.
Now the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has described itself as “sceptical” that the 2025 target – eight years ahead of the previous ambition of 2033 – can be hit.
“Given the relative immediacy of the new target date of 2025, the government must release a statement as soon as possible to explain how it intends to meet it,” its report on the issue says.
Neil Parish, the committee’s Conservative chairman, said poor broadband and mobile data services that “marginalise rural communities” should be tackled first.
“Digital connectivity is now regarded by many as an essential utility, with many in rural areas struggling to live a modern lifestyle without it,” Parish said.
“There continues to be a lot of frustration felt by those living or working in rural areas - and rightly so.”
The report criticises the current specification for the universal service obligation - a minimum speed of 10Mbps – as inadequate and doomed to be obsolete soon.
And it recommends a “rural roaming” solution to tackle “not spots” in mobile coverage, in the absence of an overall agreement between the government and mobile network operators.
Last month, senior figures from the UK's telecoms industry wrote to Johnson to say “work needs to start now” to meet his 2025 target, urging him to tackle the regulatory issues within the next year.
The regulator Ofcom reported that, as of February 2018, 95% of UK premises had access to the internet at speeds of up to 24Mbps.
But, whereas most current connections rely on slower, copper wires, full fibre networks use fibre optic cables to connect homes and are capable of delivering speeds greater than 1Gbps.
However, the committee points to 'wayleaves' as one key example of the sort of regulatory issues that stand in the way of that ambition.
A wayleave is an access agreement whereby a landowner grants a communications provider a licence to install, access and maintain equipment on their land.
The Government has consulted on allowing tenants to request such a service when faced with “an unresponsive landlord”, but the change has not yet been made.