The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has today (8 January) published an alarming report that says government has failed to make ‘any meaningful progress’ in delivering the policy and legislative changes to achieve rapid roll-out of broadband and that a catalogue of failures by DCMS means that rural communities and business and homes will continue to be left behind in this digital world.
The Countryside Alliance is concerned by the findings of this report but not surprised. Alarm bells started ringing back in the Autumn when the National Infrastructure Strategy was published alongside the Comprehensive Spending Review which saw the commitment for 100% rollout by 2025 slashed to 85%, leaving 15% of households wondering how they are going to get a gigabit broadband connection.
The PAC is “increasingly concerned that those in rural areas may have to pay more, and may reach gigabit broadband speeds late” and is not convinced 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”.
The PAC says that DCMS has failed:
- “yet again” to prioritise consumers in rural areas,
- to make meaningful progress to tackle the barriers faced by operators in maximising gigabit connectivity by 2025,
- to demonstrate it has learnt lessons from the superfast programme for the detailed design of the gigabit programme,
- to demonstrate how its centralised procurement model will retain the people, skills and knowledge in local authorities that were critical to success in the superfast programme,
- to give any reassurance that local authorities will get additional funding to retain their expert resources at a time when local government finances are under severe pressure from the pandemic,
- to make any meaningful progress in delivering the policy and legislative changes deemed essential by industry to achieve rapid roll-out
Sarah Lee, Head of Policy, Countryside Alliance said: ”This damming report shows once again the needs of rural communities are being ignored and comes at a time, at the start of another lockdown, that the importance of digital connectivity is crucial. We all hear the government talk of levelling up the north/south divide and building back better but this is clearly not happening in the countryside. The report goes to show that we need to speed up rollout, remove legislative barriers, and ensure rural communities are prioritised if we are going to grow the economy post Covid-19 and build back better.