Scaled back plans for faster broadband speeds across the UK will come as “a blow to rural communities”, internet providers have said following Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review.
Full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025 was a key Conservative manifesto pledge in the 2019 general election, which brought the goal forward by eight years.
But now the target is for “a minimum of 85% gigabit capable coverage by 2025”.
According to the National Infrastructure Strategy publication, the Government will “seek to accelerate roll-out further to get as close to 100% as possible”.
More than a third of UK premises now have access to gigabit-capable connections and it is expected that more than half will have access by next year, the document states.
From the offset, the broadband industry viewed such an aim as very ambitious and said regulatory change would be needed to make it possible.
The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) wants clarity on how the £5 billion budget to support deployment will be allocated, after the Chancellor only committed to £1.2 billion in Wednesday’s spending review.
“Today’s announcement scaling back the Government’s ambitions for supporting broadband rollout in the hardest to reach areas and is a blow to rural communities,” said Andrew Glover, ISPA chairman.
“Instead of aiming for nationwide coverage, Government now expects coverage of 85% and with only a quarter of the previously promised funding allocated until 2025.
“This will not stop providers from continuing to press ahead with their commercial rollout plans, but it puts an even greater emphasis on tackling the regulatory and practical barriers that make rollout more difficult than it should be.
“As our experiences over 2020 have proved, our broadband infrastructure is fundamental to propping up the UK’s economy in periods of lockdown, we urge the Government to ensure that this policy pivot does not lead to longer term digital exclusion of those in harder to reach areas.”
Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at comparison site cable.co.uk said 100% was always “extremely wishful thinking” and described 85% as “still shooting for the moon”.
“If achieved you can be sure that the remaining 15% will be the same 15% that already have the poorest connectivity thanks to the aforementioned factors,” he said.
“It is certainly not good news for those homes struggling to get workable broadband speeds as things currently stand.”