UK likely to miss 2025 target for full-fibre broadband rollout

The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the ‘litany’ of failures from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport which has meant that business and homes in rural areas could be locked out of gigabit broadband for years to come.

MPs say that when the Public Accounts Committee took oral evidence in Parliament from DCMS in November 2020, it appeared ‘clear that government’s 2019 election pledge to deliver nationwide gigabit broadband connectivity by 2025 was unachievable’ - and since then the government has accepted that and dropped the target.

At the 2020 Spending review, the government published a revised target of ‘at least 85 per cent’ coverage by 2025. However, it has committed less than a quarter of the £5 billion funding needed to support roll-out to the hardest to reach 20 per cent of premises.

The committee is very concerned the reduced target will still be ‘challenging’ and that the hardest to reach premises will be struggling with slow broadband for many years to come. This is based upon a number of failures, including failing to make meaningful progress to tackle the barriers faced by operators in maximising gigabit connectivity by 2025 and failing to make any meaningful progress in delivering the policy and legislative changes deemed essential by industry to achieve rapid roll-out.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “With the grim announcement that the country and economy will be locked down for months, the government’s promises on digital connectivity are more important than ever. But due to a litany of planning and implementation failures at DCMS, those promises are slipping farther and farther out of reach - even worse news for the “rural excluded” who face years trying to recover with substandard internet connectivity.  

“For the foreseeable future, ever more of our lives is moving online, whether we like it or not. Government cannot allow digital inequality to continue to compound and exacerbate the economic inequality that has been so harshly exposed in the covid-19 pandemic. It needs to be clear about timelines in each area so that businesses and individuals can plan for their digital future.”

Mark Hawthorne, Digital connectivity spokesperson at the LGA, said: “Access to fast and reliable broadband is more important than ever, so it is concerning that this report suggests homes and businesses in rural areas may not be served with gigabit-capable broadband for years to come.

“The government’s downgrading of its 100 per cent coverage target was disappointing and we urge it to set out as soon as possible its revised timeline for delivering universal gigabit-capable broadband coverage. This is particularly important for rural areas, many of which are already struggling to access superfast speeds.

“Councils are committed to working closely with the government to help deliver on its nationwide gigabit-broadband and mobile coverage ambitions. We are pleased the committee has backed our call for councils to have the funding they need to play a role accelerating and co-ordinating local broadband delivery.”