Harriett Baldwin highlights the difficulty in putting together a group of people to make use of the Government’s gigabit voucher scheme and calls on the Government to improve the scheme to strengthen the delivery of superfast broadband to rural areas.
Internet Access for Households and Businesses
Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
11. What steps she is taking to help ensure all households and businesses in (a) England and (b) West Worcestershire constituency are able to access fast and reliable internet connections. (900946)
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Ms Nadine Dorries)
Only 97.5% of premises in England and 95% in West Worcestershire can of at least 30 megabits per second. We are now bringing forward investment of £5 billion through Project Gigabit to provide gigabit connectivity to premises across the UK that are not covered through the commercial delivery. We have already provided gigabit coverage to 600,000 premises in areas that previously only had low speeds. We are aiming to commence procurement for gigabit coverage in Worcestershire between September and November of this year.
The figures I have got from the House of Commons Library for West Worcestershire say that 9% of my constituency is still not covered. That is because it is very cumbersome to put together the groups of people with vouchers to make a scheme viable, and they are very vulnerable to someone withdrawing their voucher at the last minute. Will the Secretary of State look at ways to improve that, so we can have someone underwriting and strengthening the delivery of this important service to rural areas?
Hundreds of premises in rural areas across my hon. Friend’s constituency, which I know well, have received gigabit-capable connections through the voucher scheme, but, as she says, there are some fragilities to that. We will be bringing forward our Project Gigabit procurement for suppliers to provide coverage to premises that are not covered by the commercial providers, or where vouchers are not the most effective approach. Alongside this, we have introduced voucher priority areas, but in some instances suppliers are able to deliver faster thanks to their participation in the voucher scheme. I reiterate what I said in response to a previous answer: we were never going to reach 100% overnight, but to have gone from 6% to 69% across the UK in three years is pretty remarkable, and that progress continues at pace.