The report from the UK parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) fundamentally cast doubt as to whether the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) would meet target of rollout of super-fast, gigabit broadband to 85% of the UK by 2025 and full coverage by 2030.
The committee’s report quoted the DCMS as calculated that the proportion of premises in the UK with access to gigabit broadband had leapt from 40% to 57% between May and October 2021.
However, the report emphasised that this benchmark was due mainly to Virgin Media O2 upgrading its cable network and the Committee damningly said that the DCMS had to date made “little tangible progress in delivering internet connectivity beyond that achieved by the private sector”. Furthermore, it added that the DCMS goal of full coverage by 2030 did not cover the very hardest to reach areas, which include around 134,000 premises and that it has no detailed plan in place for reaching communities where it is not commercially viable to do so.
Moreover, the Committee said it remains concerned that DCMS’ focus on accelerating coverage through rollout by commercial operators rather than by prioritising those areas it knows are hardest to reach risks some of the areas that need improved connectivity most being left behind “once again”. The PAC added that it had already warned earlier in 2022 that “failures with the rollout of superfast broadband across the UK risked exacerbating digital and economic inequality” and while “commercial investment plans by existing and new providers are welcome, reducing the potential need for taxpayer funded rollout.”
“[The DCMS] couldn’t really explain how broadband has got as far as it has in this critical national strategy, beyond ‘thanks to Virgin Media’, and incredibly it still doesn’t have a real plan for getting the rest of the way to its own downgraded targets,” commented Public Accounts Committee chair Dame Meg Hillier she said. “What DCMS does know full well is it can’t rely on the private sector to get fast broadband to the hardest to reach, excluded and rural areas, and despite its repeated promises to do exactly that we are apparently little nearer to closing the great digital divide developing across the UK nor addressing the social and economic inequality it brings with it.” Rapid TV News