The National Audit Office has said the government’s target for rolling out superfast broadband will be “particularly difficult” to achieve for the hardest to reach premises.
In its report Improving Broadband, the NAO found the 2010 scheme to deliver Superfast Broadband helped extend the UK’s superfast broadband coverage, but many people still experience poor broadband, particularly in rural areas.
Previous the DCMS has prioritised increasing broadband coverage over speed. This was changed in 2018 when the government announced a new policy for the UK’s telecoms industry to provide infrastructure capable of faster gigabit speeds to 50% of premises by 2025, and nationwide by 2033. The later date was subsequently brought forward to 2025, a target that the NAO describes as “challenging”.
“To deliver the government’s vision of achieving nationwide gigabit connectivity, the Department must manage the tension between meeting a challenging timeline and serving those in greatest need. Failure to do so risks leaving the hardest to reach areas even further behind and widening the urban-rural divide,” said Gareth Davies, head of the NAO.
The report says the Superfast Programme helped the DCMS to achieve its target of 95% superfast broadband coverage by 2017 broadly on time. It means that, 95% of UK premises have access to Ofcom’s recommended superfast download speed of 30 megabits per second.
However, suppliers were encouraged to prioritise roll out to the easiest to reach premises, which meant premises in rural or remote areas were left behind.
Rural coverage of superfast broadband is now at 80%, compared to 97% in urban areas, and is the lowest in rural Northern Ireland, at just 66%.
Only 14% of UK premises can access full-fibre, which is one of the lowest rates in Europe.