Litany of Failures in UK’s Fiber Broadband RolloutJanuary 26, 2021
Just as expected, it will not be possible for the UK to provide gigabit broadband in the entire country by 2025. This was a pledge made by Boris Johnson. This is according to UK’s spending watchdog. Speaking in June 2019, Johnson stated that the target by Theresa May to achieve the gigabit broadband by 2033 was too ambitious and impossible. It was from these sentiments that Johnson pledged in his manifesto to ensure that there will be complete roll out of full fiber connectivity in the country by 2025.
After his pledge, however, the idea seems to have been compressed or appeared impossible. There is now a new target working towards ensuring the 85% of the UK will have gigabit connectivity by 2025. This new target for the gigabit project was made public towards the end of last year by DCMS (the Department for Culture, Media and Sports). Nevertheless, even the new 85% target may be unattainable. This is according to a new report that was released today by the Public Accounts Committee. According to the committee, this new report was arrived at after great consideration, especially bearing in mind that there is less funding that has so far been channeled towards the gigabit project.
The report stated that merely less that a quarter of the total amount needed (£5 billion) had so far been allocated. The £5 billion would be the funds needed to begin the project in the areas that are hardest to reach, making 20% of all the targeted areas. With the little funding, achieving the set target may be hard. The PAC has also attributed the slow progress to failing to take lessons from the projects that have failed before. The PAC also cites that the current centralized method of procurement derails such projects. This is because local allocation of funds is derailed and policies are not often reviewed.
The PAC chairperson, Meg Hillier, supported the need for this project. In Meg’s remarks, current times have proven the need for digital connectivity more than ever. Meg continues to place blame on the planning and implementation process at DCMS as the reason for the current failure. Meg is empathetic especially about the internet connectivity for the ‘rural excluded’ who waste years as they strive to recover due to poor internet connection.
DCMS statistics show that the number of households that now have gigabit broadband has risen. There was only one in every ten households with gigabit broadband in 2019 and today, the country has one in every three households. DCMS could however not update the committee on when the official roll out for the new target would begin. The concern of the PAC is that the rural communities might be left behind in the connectivity.
This report has been released at a time when the government is dealing with another broadband issue; online education for learners whose schools are closed because of Covid-19. Schools were ordered by the government to remain open due to the vulnerable children, children of key workers and even for those children who lack appropriate devices and broadband in their homes. Due to the menace created by this directive, many schools have been forced to accommodate large numbers of learners while still offering online learning.
Even with this headache, education minister Gavin Williamson refused an offer by BT to provide underprivileged learners with cheap or free broadband.