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DCMS making “little tangible progress” with superfast broadband rollout

New report by the Committee of Public Accounts has found that the UK is unlikely to hit the 85% coverage target by 2025

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has made “little tangible progress” in delivering Project Gigabit and is unlikely to hit the 85% coverage target by the 2025 deadline.

This is according to a new report by the House of Commons’ Committee of Public Accounts, which counts Dame Meg Hillier MP and Shaun Bailey MP as its members. 

DCMS is accused of relying too heavily on commercial suppliers, as well as providing little to no information on the baselines used to achieve the repeatedly-revised 2025 target.

Although the national gigabit coverage increased from 40% to 57% between May and October 2021, DCMS has been unable to provide the Committee with information on “why this has occurred”.

The 17% jump in coverage in five months has been attributed to Virgin Media O2’s cable network upgrade that was completed in December 2021.

Despite Virgin Media O2’s upgrade providing gigabit availability, with average download speeds of 1,130Mbps, the report notes that “this is not achieved through full fibre technology, which is more future proof but requires new infrastructure”.

“While companies such as Virgin Media O2 have set out their intention to further future proof their networks over time, once the current upgrade of existing cables has been completed there will remain a gap in coverage if the Department does not put in place further contracts to build the gigabit infrastructure,” the committee found.

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DCMS’ assertion of delivering the 85% target by 2025 was found unconvincing by the committee’s members, who have recommended that the department “determine the most appropriate metrics and frequency for reporting progress with the scheme” by March 2022.

The committee also warned that the gigabit rollout could potentially perpetuate digital inequality, with many rural areas in the UK being left behind in the deployment. It has asked DCMS to provide information on how it’s planning to overcome barriers to nationwide deployment as well as ensure that even the most remote communities will have access to gigabit connectivity.

“The Department should write to us setting out how it will reach the remaining 15% left out of the 2025 target, as well as the very hardest to reach 0.3%,” the report stated.

DCMS was not immediately available to comment on the recommendations.

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