THE BLOG

Your Superfast Broadband Doesn't Have to Come From the Big Players

03/02/2016 13:55 GMT | Updated 03/02/2017 10:12 GMT

To say there is a global revolution in technology taking place is unquestionable. The World Economic Forum that met in Davos last month called it the 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' - new technologies being developed today will change the way individuals, companies and governments do their business in years to come.

We don't yet know the full extent of the impact this Revolution will have, but we can be sure of one thing at least: a high speed, high quality communications network is essential for the UK and its citizens to reap the full benefits of these changes.

In 2013, my department began a radical programme of investment to make sure everyone in the UK had access to basic broadband, and to take superfast broadband to first 90% of the country this year, and then to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017.

However, 95% still leaves many without, and I am determined that everyone should benefit from our modern digital age. Launched by then Secretary of State Maria Miller back in 2014, the Market Test Pilot programme was set up to see how superfast broadband could be delivered in some of the UK's most sparsely populated rural areas. A crucial element of this was better understanding the capability of alternative suppliers to BT Openreach and Virgin Media.

Using a range of technologies, including in some cases mixing several different technologies on one project, the £8 million of government funding has supported seven projects. These include Avanti and Satellite Internet, using superfast-capable satellite; Airwave, Quickline and AB Internet, using fixed wireless; and Call Flow and Cybermoor, using a mix of fibre and fixed wireless technologies.

Crucially, these pilots have allowed smaller suppliers to showcase innovative ways of reaching these remote and difficult-to-reach households. They've broken down barriers to connectivity; proven that you don't need vast amounts of public subsidy to achieve high coverage of superfast broadband in challenging areas - and the technologies they have used have met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction from customers.

This lesson has not been ignored. Nine of the projects on Phase 2 of the Superfast Broadband Programme - taking the UK from 90% to 95% superfast coverage, honouring our manifesto commitment - have been won by smaller suppliers, some using fixed wireless technologies.

I want these findings to continue to strengthen the supplier market in rural areas and increase consumer confidence in the range of solutions available. We already have the best broadband of all the major European countries in terms of speed, coverage, take up and price. The contracts we have in place with BT mean that the telecoms giant has already returned £129 million to local authorities to be re-invested in extending the current rollout even further, and as take-up rates continue to exceed expectations, even more funding will be returned to the public purse.

What we have learned from the pilots will be instrumental in helping Government, Local Authorities, and network providers now take superfast - and in some cases ultrafast - speeds to the remaining homes and businesses in the UK not covered by our existing plans and investment. It's important that the global revolution reaches every part of the UK and that no one is left behind - and it's initiatives like these that are going to help us make sure that this is the case.