East Ham MP Stephen Timms blames Tory government for broadband failure

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- Credit: Archant

Parliament’s first debate last week was about superfast broadband. From all sides, MPs complained about inadequate broadband speeds and long delays.

Government set a target in 2010, for 90 per cent of every local authority area to have access to superfast broadband by 2015. In Newham, it’s been achieved. The Think Broadband website reports 91.1pc of Newham is within reach of 28 Mbit/s broadband, or better.

Elsewhere, the picture is far worse. Many rural areas still see no sign of any broadband service. And many urban areas will also miss the 90pc target.

According to the local council, only 47pc of Westminster has access to superfast broadband. They say local businesses are being held back by “painfully slow” broadband. The government has invested heavily. So why are the results so disappointing? I believe it’s because this government – unlike Labour – failed to put competition at the heart of telecommunications policy.

Awarding 3G spectrum in 2000, ministers made sure a licence went to a company which was new to the mobile market. Extra competition reduced prices, promoted innovation and helped extend mobile to new areas.

This government handed all superfast broadband money to a single company: BT. It should, at least, have ensured some of the subsidy went to a different provider. Now, BT has ministers over a barrel. We have no other approach to compare BT’s with. Ministers have no levers at all to pressure BT to tackle the problems.

The Financial Times leader on October 1 said of the Conservative Party: “their penchant for protecting corporate interests is not healthy. With productivity still the UK’s biggest economic challenge, their instinct should be to promote competition.” This failure is shown most clearly by the widespread disappointment over broadband which was so evident in Parliament’s debate last week. More from Stephen

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