Insights House of Commons Public Accounts Committee publishes report on “Delivering gigabit-capable broadband”

The Committee has published a report on the progress made by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in rolling out gigabit-capable broadband.

The Committee recognises that the rapid roll out of “Project Gigabit” is vital. In 2020, DCMS accepted that its original plan for delivering nationwide gigabit broadband across the country by 2025 was unachievable and revised its target. Yet, the Committee finds, despite revising this to 85% coverage by 2025, it is “still not convinced that [DCMS] will deliver on time”.

The Committee says that, for some time now, it has pressed DCMS on answering precise questions on the timetables and milestones to achieve this target. Central to this, it says, is knowing exactly when new gigabit infrastructure contracts will be signed and how they will be rolled out. Without such a timetable and clear answers to these questions, the Committee says that it cannot fully understand how DCMS will meet the 2025 target.

The Committee says that proof of this can be found in the fact that DCMS has made “little tangible progress in delivering internet connectivity beyond that achieved by the private sector”. The Committee notes that DCMS reports that the proportion of premises in the UK with access to gigabit broadband leapt from 40% to 57% between May and October 2021. However, while recognising that this is largely due to Virgin Media O2 upgrading its cable network, “[DCMS] is unable to fully explain why this has occurred”.

The Committee says that it has already warned that failures with the rollout of superfast broadband across the UK risked exacerbating digital and economic inequality. Further, although DCMS now states that it plans to reach nationwide coverage for gigabit-capable broadband by 2030, the Committee finds that it has no detailed plan in place for reaching communities where it is not commercially viable to do so. Moreover, its goal of full coverage by 2030 does not cover the very hardest to reach areas, which include around 134,000 premises. The Committee welcomes announcements of commercial investment plans by existing and new providers as they reduce the potential need for taxpayer funded rollout. However, the Committee is concerned that DCMS’s 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 once again left behind. To access the Committee’s report, click here.