In a damning report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the government had failed to make “any meaningful progress” in securing the policy and legislative changes needed to ensure a successful rollout.
As a result, thousands of homes and businesses, particularly in rural areas, could be left with slow broadband for many years, MPs warned.
It added that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DMCS) had committed less than a quarter of the £5bn funding needed to support the project and was unable to say when it would deliver major milestones.
Full-fibre broadband access formed a key part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s election manifesto, and he pledged to bring the new network to all parts of the UK by 2025.
But in its National Infrastructure Strategy published in November the government watered down this target, promising instead gigabit-capable coverage to 85 per cent of the country by 2025.
Johnson first proposed a 2025 target for full-fibre broadband in June 2019 as he stood to become leader of the Conservative party. In a column for the Daily Telegraph, he wrote that a standing promise by Theresa May to introduce superfast broadband by 2033 was “laughably unambitious”.
The report has been released amid growing concerns that a “digital divide” is leaving many pupils adrift during the coronavirus pandemic. Ofcom estimates that more than 880,000 children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection.
Says Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at Uswitch.com:
“This is the second time in 17 days that a parliamentary committee has highlighted the insufficient progress made if the government is going to hit its target of making gigabit-capable broadband available to 85% of premises by 2025.
“More consumers than ever are currently seeing the importance of a reliable broadband connection with millions of households home-schooling and working from home.
“Reports suggest that the lack of progress could leave homes and businesses with a slow connection for years.
“However, many consumers already have access to superfast broadband, but are not currently taking advantage of this. There is no consumer benefit to having cables running past your house if you’re not connected to them.
“Helping consumers upgrade to ultrafast services at competitive prices will be a critical part of making everyone’s digital experience better.
“Government, regulators and industry should give equal weight to promoting take-up for new technology as they do to rolling it out in the first place.”