House of Commons Library

Fixed Broadband: Policy, Coverage and Speeds

Published Monday, January 11, 2016

This note sets out the current situation with regard to broadband access and coverage and provides an overview of the Government’s broadband policy for the UK. It focuses on the delivery of broadband targets and funding in England. The devolved administrations have their own delivery programmes.

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This Commons Library brief sets out the current situation with regard to broadband eaccess and coverage, and provides an overview of the Government's policy for the UK.

Key targets and Government commitments

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is spending £790 million on its superfast (rural) broadband programme, which aims to improve superfast broadband provision to premises across the UK. The current targets are to extend:

  • Superfast broadband for 90% of the UK by the end of 2015, and provide a basic broadband service (2Mbps) for all – Phase 1;
  • Superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by 2017 – Phase 2;
  • Superfast broadband coverage to the “final 5%” of UK premises – Phase 3.

Britain’s superfast broadband future

The Coalition Government’s main broadband commitments were first detailed in a broadband strategy – Britain’s superfast broadband future – in December 2010. This strategy set the Government’s ambition and allocated £530 million: to provide everyone in the UK with access to broadband with a download speed of at least 2Mbps (megabits per second); and to bring ‘superfast broadband’ (at least 24Mbps) to 90% of UK homes and businesses.

Later, in 2013, the Government increased its ambition, allocating an additional £250 million to provide 95% of the UK with ‘superfast broadband’ by 2017. The Government is also exploring different approaches to delivering superfast broadband to the remaining hardest to reach areas—namely, remote and rural areas—phase 3.

In February 2015, Sajid David MP explained that the Government’s focus was now on reaching the “final 5%” of hard to reach, remote and rural areas. In the March 2015 Budget the Coalition Government announced a new ambition that ultrafast broadband (speeds of at least 100Mbps) would be available to nearly all UK premises, although no target date was given.

Delays in rollout

On 5 July 2013 the NAO reported on the Government’s broadband programme. The report notes that Departmental forecasts predict the programme will complete its rollout 22 months later than originally planned. The NAO report was followed by a series of select committee inquiries. In January 2015 the NAO published an updated report on the rural broadband programme which noted that superfast broadband is likely to reach the phase 1 target of 90% of premises ahead of the revised date of December 2016.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on Rural Broadband and digital only services was published on 3 February 2015. The report notes that the Government’s target dates for broadband have changed a number of times, and raises concerns that the target for delivering superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises “may slip”. It also urged the Government to set a clear target date for when the last 5% of premises will obtain access to superfast broadband.

New Conservative Government 2015-

The Conservative Government’s 2015 election manifesto made superfast broadband commitments, pledging that rural Britain would have “near universal” superfast broadband by the end of the 2015 Parliament. In the Queen’s Speech on 18 May 2016 the Government indicated in would bring forward a Digital Economy Bill that will contain a Universal Service Obligation for broadband. This will give all households the legal right to have a fast broadband connection installed.

Commons Briefing papers SN06643

Authors: David Hirst; Carl Baker; Alex Bate

Topics: Internet and cybercrime, Telecommunications

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