To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps he is taking to improve broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas.
14 December 2018
The Government’s policy is to ensure world-class broadband connectivity across the UK, including in rural areas, and includes the following steps which have been designed to improve broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas.
£1.7 billion of public money is being invested to support vital improvements in superfast broadband coverage across the UK, including in rural areas. In December 2017, we met our target to extend superfast coverage to 95% of UK premises, and we expect to reach at least 97%. .
We have also put in place legislation to create a new Universal Service Obligation giving every household and business the right to request a broadband connection of at least 10 Mbps by 2020, to ensure no-one is left behind. In addition, the Better Broadband Scheme provides additional voucher funding to UK premises that do not have access to an affordable broadband service delivering at least 2Mbps. This will provide a safety net until the USO is in place by 2020
We want to provide world class digital connectivity that is gigabit-capable, reliable, long-lasting and widely available across the UK. We have set ambitious targets - for 15 million premises to be connected to full fibre by 2025, with nationwide coverage by 2033. In the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, we set out our long term national strategy to meet these targets, and to ensure that rural and remote areas are not left behind. Critical to delivering this ambition, is the “outside-in” approach set out in the review, which seeks to ensure that the harder to reach, mostly rural areas which are not viable for commercial investment - are addressed at the same pace as the rest of the country.
The £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) programme announced in the Budget on 29 October 2018 marks the first step in this “outside-in” process and will prioritise the delivery full fibre to premises in rural and remote areas. The RGC builds on the Local Full Fibre Networks programme which includes a £190 million Challenge Fund designed to stimulate commercial investment in full fibre networks in both rural and urban locations across the UK. In addition, Defra has also allocated £30 million of grant funding from the Rural Development Programme for England, targeted at helping to connect businesses with superfast broadband in hard to reach rural areas.
On Mobile services, the Government is committed to ensuring that the UK has good quality, consistent mobile connectivity where people live, work and travel. Mobile coverage has significantly improved over recent years, with 87% of UK landmass having a 4G signal from at least one operator (compared to 78% in 2017). My Department is also working across Government, and with others, to ensure delivery of our manifesto commitment to secure 95% geographic coverage of the UK by 2022. Alongside this work, we welcome the opportunity that Ofcom's proposed 700MHz auction presents to improve mobile coverage across the UK, including in rural areas.