Home » Ben Lake MP raises issues of rural connectivity during Public Accounts Committee evidence session
Ceredigion Mid Wales News Politics

Ben Lake MP raises issues of rural connectivity during Public Accounts Committee evidence session

ON 22 APRIL 2024, the Public Accounts Committee took oral evidence on supporting mobile connectivity. Sarah Munby (Permanent Secretary at Department for Science, Innovation and Technology), Emran Mian CB OBE (Director General for Digital, Technology and Telecoms at Department for Science, Innovation and Technology), and Dean Creamer CBE (Chief Executive at Building Digital UK) gave evidence. 

The UK Government has set itself challenging ambitions to deliver UK-wide reliable mobile connectivity and gigabit broadband connectivity by 2025, but The National Audit Office has found that the Shared Rural Network is behind schedule, with three out of the UK’s four network operators admitting they may not be able to deliver the coverage required within current grant funding. It further found that UK Government is not currently monitoring progress effectively, and does not have the information to understand what the programme is costing.

In 2021, the Public Accounts Committee warned that digital inequality was compounding the economic inequality exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee concluded that UK Government’s pledge to deliver nationwide gigabit broadband coverage was unachievable, and that the hardest-to-reach premises may struggle with fixed broadband for years to come.

In his questions to the witnesses, Ben Lake MP stated:

“A key thing for us in rural areas is to be able to fully take advantage of enhanced connectivity and the opportunities, social and, importantly, economic, that it offers our areas. The National Audit Office Report mentions that, at the moment, the Department “requires” the mobile network operators to meet Ofcom’s 2018 minimum performance threshold for good 4G coverage. That threshold is a 90-second phone call and a download speed of 2 Mbps. That is great for the world of 2018, but post covid, it does not necessarily give businesses or individuals the ability to partake in group video calls or quick data downloads. At the moment, without better internet speeds, some of the benefits mentioned in the business case for home working, small businesses and productivity gains, may not be realised. Do you think it is acceptable that some of the benefits listed in the business case may not be realised in more rural, remote areas?”

Speaking after the evidence session, Ben Lake MP said:

“Rural communities too often find themselves as an afterthought in Government investment plans, and it is especially the case when it comes to improvements mobile and broadband connectivity. Rural, and so-called ‘hard to reach’ areas need to be prioritised if we are not fall further behind our urban counterparts when it comes to digital connectivity.

“Many of the UK Government’s digital connectivity programmes have been in existence for a few years now, but progress in rural areas remains modest, such that the Government is in danger of failing to address the digital inequality identified by the Committee back in 2021. I was pleased to be able to raise my concerns during this week’s evidence session and press those responsible on their plans to improve connectivity in rural areas like Ceredigion.”