Laura Sharman 16 October 2020

Watchdog warns 2025 target for superfast broadband will be 'challenging'

Rural and remote areas have been left behind in plans to rollout superfast broadband, the public spending watchdog has warned.

In a new report, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned the Government’s target of rolling out superfast broadband nationwide by 2025 will be difficult to achieve for the hardest to reach premises.

Rural coverage of superfast broadband is at 80%, compared to 97% in urban areas it found.

The NAO said that the Superfast Programme helped the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport achieve its target of 95% superfast broadband coverage by 2017 broadly on time. It is now calling for a detailed plan and schedule for the £5bn Future Programme that will support delivery to the hardest to reach 20% of premises.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: ‘To deliver the government’s vision of achieving nationwide gigabit connectivity, the Department must manage the tension between meeting a challenging timeline and serving those in greatest need. Failure to do so risks leaving the hardest to reach areas even further behind and widening the urban-rural divide.’

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils need more funding to support telecommunication providers to deliver improvements on the ground.

Cllr Mark Hawhthorne, digital connectivity spokesperson for the LGA, said: 'The Government should use the upcoming Spending Review as an opportunity to empower councils to place a local digital champion in every local area to help facilitate delivery and support providers to install gigabit-capable broadband as quickly as possible.

'A local digital champion could then be a central contact point for government and broadband providers to help problem solve deployment issues in the local area.'

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