Tuesday 22 December 2020 12:01 am

MPs question government’s 2025 broadband target amid 5G concerns

MPs have questioned the government’s ability to meet its revised-down target for “gigabit-capable” broadband to be delivered to most of the country by 2025, saying the industry faces serious challenges over such a short time-scale.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee also said the rollout of superfast 5G internet risked creating more “not-spots” in rural regions. And it said the decision to phase Huawei out of the 5G network risked raising costs and lengthening delays.

In 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to bring “full fibre” internet to the whole of the UK by 2025. This was later changed to “gigabit-capable” broadband, which is still fast but can be carried by 5G networks and copper cables.

However, in November’s spending and infrastructure review, the government watered down its commitment. It said it would only reach 85 per cent of premises over the next five years.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of MPs today questioned whether even this target would be reached.

It noted that the coronavirus pandemic has been disruptive but said the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) must finalise and launch the contracts for delivering infrastructure to hard-to-reach properties as soon as possible.

“The government’s decision to abandon its 2025 gigabit-capable broadband target… was a belated recognition that it was unrealistic and unachievable, underlining concerns we’d heard from industry,” said DCMS Committee chair Julian Knight.

“Valuable time has been lost, making meeting even the revised-down target a major challenge.”

The Committee – which scrutinises the DCMS – also questioned why only 25 per cent of the government’s pledged £5bn to support roll-out to the hardest-to-reach premises had been made available by 2025.

5G rollout risks ‘not-spots’

On top of this, it raised concerns that many Britons in rural parts of the country could struggle to get 5G internet for years to come.

The government’s target to provide 5G to 35m people by 2027 is based on delivery to the majority of the population, rather than the majority of the UK’s landmass.

This “risks repeating the same errors that led to mobile ‘not-spots’ with investors cherry-picking areas of high population and leaving people in remote rural areas without a hope,” said Knight.

It added that legislation to ban the use of Huawei equipment is expected to result in a delay of two to three years of widespread 5G roll-out with costs of up to £2bn.

DCMS has been contacted for comment.