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The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, of which I am a member, commented last July that “the UK is a laggard by international standards in providing fibre connectivity. This could result in a widening, not a narrowing, of the digital divide”. Indeed, the isolation of rural and semi-rural communities from our increasingly high speed digital economy is something that must be urgently addressed if we are serious about creating a more equitable and less London-centric economy.

BT and its local access network subsidiary Openreach are at the centre of nationwide rollouts of fibre broadband, having won all of the contracts for phase one of the national initiative. Their figures released in March this year indicate that 92.5% of people across the country now have access to broadband speeds of 24Mbps or higher (i.e. superfast broadband). Even if this were true, we would have to consider how this situation affects the final 7.5%.

But current advertising regulations allow BT to claim that consumers receiving their broadband connections from a particular cabinet all receive superfast connections if they can show that just 10% actually do so. Cabinets across the country are fitted with fibre technology, but households are still using copper connections that slow their internet down to a snail’s pace and we must accept that this 92.5% figure grossly misrepresents the scale of this problem in the UK.

In a parliamentary debate, the Minister for Culture and Communications, Matthew Hancock, made the point that if we assume that all fibre cabinets provide their consumers with superfast connections, we have the best developed broadband infrastructure of Europe’s five largest economies. Account for the fact that the majority of connections are, at best, half fibre connections, however, and we have in fact the least developed broadband infrastructure of these five European economies. The effect of this misrepresentation on the ground is that people across the country – but particularly in rural areas – are being told that they have superfast internet connections yet are unable to carry out even basic online tasks.

Clearly, it is essential that Openreach is properly scrutinised as it carries out its contracted duty to provide the people of the UK with broadband. This is where the work of my Committee and the passage of the Digital Economy Bill, for which I sat on the Public Bill Committee, play crucial roles. We can scrutinise and bring concerns to light and legislate for greater investment in digital infrastructure. Ultimately, however, we also rely on Ofcom as the independent communications regulator and the Advertising Standards Authority to ensure that BT and Openreach carry out the rollout to the best possible benefit to the consumer.

I am encouraged that the Committee for Advertising Practices is currently undertaking a serious review of BT’s use of a 10% sample to claim 100% superfast connectivity and was also happy to see Matt Wharman MP lead a debate on this issue in Parliament. On the same day the Chancellor announced that £200 million additional investment would be given to broadband infrastructural improvements. The severity of the digital divide is demonstrably not lost on senior members of Government. The Digital Economy Bill is also set to introduce a Universal Service Obligation so that all premises in the country can access broadband at a speed of 10Mbps as an absolute minimum by the end of this Parliament, which I believe is a crucial first action for immediately connecting isolated rural communities to the wider economy.

There has been seen some visible progress with broadband infrastructure in my own constituency of Mid Worcestershire that shows that these legislative promises are having a substantive effect on the ground. Driving across the county in my constituency, I am encouraged to see further cabinets with the “Superfast Broadband coming soon” message plastered across their doors. If the issues I have highlighted with advertising and investment are addressed, these cabinets could genuinely change the lives of my constituents. The economic potential of rural Britain is immense. This potential can be even more fully realised once it is connected to the rest of the country’s digital economy and is able to function within a fair and competitive commercial playing field.

Nigel Huddleston MP is Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire and is a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. This is an article from Bright Blue’s magazine The robotic revolution published before the general election.