The UK’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – which is tasked with examining the value for money of government projects, programmes and service delivery – has said that it is unconvinced that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will meet even its downgraded targets for the rollout of gigabit broadband connectivity, arguing that the latter is ‘relying too heavily on commercial contractors for the progress that has been made’.
In a press release regarding its findings the PAC noted that it had already warned earlier this year that ‘failures with the rollout of superfast broadband across the UK risked exacerbating digital and economic inequality’. Meanwhile, the committee noted that although commercial investment plans by existing and new providers were welcome and would reduce the potential need for a taxpayer funded rollout, it remained concerned that the DCMS was focused on ‘accelerating coverage through rollout by commercial operators rather than by prioritising those areas it knows are hardest to reach risks some of the areas that need improved connectivity most being once again left behind’.
With the DCMS currently targeting that 85% of premises will have access to gigabit connectivity by 2025, it most recently reported that 57% were within reach of such speeds by October 2021, up from 40% in May 2021. However, the PAC highlighted the fact that such an increase was largely due to Virgin Media upgrading its cable network, arguing that the DCMS ‘has made little tangible progress in delivering internet connectivity beyond that achieved by the private sector’. Moreover, the Committee also pointed to the fact that the DCMS’ goal of full coverage by 2030 ‘does not cover the very hardest to reach areas, which include around 134,000 premises’ while pointing to the fact the department still has no detailed plan in place for reaching communities where it is not commercially viable to do so.