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Government claims success in 70% gigabit broadband roll-out, but rolls-back future targets

The Government has announced that it has hit it’s target for gigabit broadband roll-out, with Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport announcing that 70% of homes and businesses across the UK have access to reliable, high-speed internet connections.

Commenting on the figure, the outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “When I first became Prime Minister, only 7% of the premises in this country had gigabit broadband, that’s now up to 70%. If you put it into remote rural communities, what you’re going to do is level up.

“If you give people opportunities they wouldn’t have had, the ability to connect in a way that was completely unimaginable – that enables businesses to thrive and prosper in remote areas.

It means people can stay where they grew up, they don’t have to go toi live in towns or cities and it is absolutely transformational.”

Indeed, the importance of broadband roll-out to Levelling Up is clear. Curia recently produced a report, Connecting Cornwall: Demonstrating the Value of Improved Connectivity, plotting progress on the gigabit roll-out and quantifying the impact of improved coverage.

According to Curia, digital connectivity would generate an economic impact amounting to £615 million GVA across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, delivering an additional £111 million year-on year-until 2030. Improved coverage is therefore critical to Levelling Up and improving productivity across the UK.

Gigabit Broadband: Moving the goalposts?

However, since the announcement of the 70% figure, the Government have since scaled down the future plans for gigabit broadband roll-out. As part of Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto, he pledged to bring gigabit broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025, with £5 billion behind the scheme.

However, in a press release published on Tuesday, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport quoted a narrower aim, seeking to roll-out broadband to 85% of the country by 2025.

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said that the Prime Minister “should be putting his shoulder to the wheel tackling the Conservative cost of living crisis, not patting himself on the back for his failed broadband policy.

“The government has failed on broadband rollout, downgrading and watering down their targets year after year with delay after delay in contracting companies to connect hard to reach areas across the country.”

Commenting on the changing of the target, former leader of the Liberal Democrats said that the Conservatives had “mastered the art of broken promises and are showing flagrant disregard to rural communities.”

These comments came as Matt Warman, a Minister at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport endured an embarrassing interview gaffe, discussing broadband roll-out on LBC radio. While hailing the successes of the Government’s action on broadband roll-out, Warman suffered a connection failure, with his picture freezing and line cutting out.

Minister Matt Warman discussing gigabit broadband rollout
Matt Warman, moments before the gaffe

Final Thought

It is certainly counter-intuitive that, upon reaching this milestone the government’s next move would be to backtrack on it’s previously stated goal of 100% coverage by 2025. If anything, you would expect this to be a springboard to hit that target.

Broadband has been a central component of the Levelling Up agenda, and a large part of how the roll-out will unfold under the new Prime Minister is dependent on the extent to which they are committed to the Levelling Up agenda.

Both candidates have expressed that they will be pushing ahead with Levelling Up, with Rishi Sunak recently writing exclusively for Chamber on the topic. But as pressures rise from the cost of living crisis, budgets will be squeezed. Frontrunner Liz Truss has already promised over £30 billion in tax cuts, and this will need to be made up for from elsewhere. While part of this will be borrowing, this will also be very likely to involve spending cuts.

For the sake of the Levelling Up agenda, let’s hope that this does not involve cuts to spending on broadband.

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