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Prime minister hints at new countryside broadband effort

06/10/16

Theresa May expresses dissatisfaction with predecessor's retreat from 24Mbps target

Prime Minister Theresa May is to rip up the much criticised plans that will leave swathes of the countryside without superfast broadband, aides have signalled.

Newton village streetShe used her party conference speech to show common cause with Conservative MPs who have long protested that rural areas are being left in the slow lane.

May told the party faithful: “It's just not right, for example, that half of people living in rural areas, and so many small businesses, can't get a decent broadband connection.”

Although she did not spell out what changes she would make, her spokesperson said later that new policies – on broadband, as well as on energy and housing – would follow in the coming months. They could come in next month’s autumn statement, for which it is already known that Chancellor Philip Hammond will retilt economic strategy, following the Brexit vote.

Obligation by 2020

Earlier this year, the Government axed a proposal to deliver superfast broadband – speeds of at least 24Mbps – to the “final 5%” of the country because of the cost. Instead, May’s predecessor David Cameron announced he would introduce a universal service obligation (USO) - the right to demand only 10Mbps wherever you live, by 2020, while contributing to the cost.

A Government analysis, revealed by UKAuthority, showed that the ‘broadband blackspots’ that would leave are overwhelmingly in constituencies held by Conservative MPs. Seats in Herefordshire, Devon, Somerset and Shropshire will have the most homes and offices lacking modern superfast speeds.

The seats of three Cabinet ministers - party chairman Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire Dales, 18%), Justice Secretary Liz Truss (South West Norfolk, 15%) and International Development Secretary Priti Patel (Witham, Essex, 15%) – are on the blackspot map.

Other areas of England where large numbers will miss out are further north, including parts of Cumbria, Northumbria, North Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

Huge proportions of premises will also lack superfast broadband – without further Government action – in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

As well as concerns over speeds in many areas, a report by MPs in the summer warned that the UK is “a laggard by international standards in providing fibre connectivity”.

BT defence

BT defended its record on supplying broadband to rural communities, telling The Times. “This scheme has helped to get fibre broadband to more than 4 million homes and is a shining example of how the private and public sectors can work together.

“The Government is now exploring how to improve broadband speeds in the final 5% of the UK and we have offered to work with them to minimise the impact on the taxpayer.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has insisted it is “on track” to reach its target of 95% of premises boasting speeds of at least 24 Mbps by the end of 2017.

Image: Newton St Cyres by Derek Harper/Geograph.org.uk

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