Broadband voucher scheme should cover rural areas, MPs say

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Image caption Those who are hardest to reach must be given priority when it comes to broadband, say MPs

A voucher scheme which helps companies access faster broadband should be extended to rural areas, MPs have said.

The current system, which allows businesses in cities to claim up to £3,000 to improve their internet access, was described as "unbalanced".

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee also asked whether broadband rollout targets would be met and if minimum speeds were high enough.

The government said £1.7bn was being invested in rural broadband.

The government's ambition is to provide 95% of the UK with superfast broadband - defined as speeds of 24Mbps - or higher by 2017, with the rest having a minimum speed of 2Mbps.

The distribution of broadband is overseen by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

'On track'

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Image caption The UK's broadband speeds are faster than in some European neighbours but lag behind others

The MPs complained that "the allocation of funding between urban and rural areas is greatly unbalanced" and called for a date to be set for universal superfast access.

The report states: "Rural areas are lagging behind.

"Those in poorly connected areas are sometimes asked to pay twice: once through their taxes... and potentially again from their own pockets if the BDUK programme does not reach them."

It recommended the introduction of the voucher scheme for those who live in areas with no access to fixed-line broadband or where they are unable to access a minimum of 2Mbps broadband.

"The vouchers should subsidise the cost of satellite broadband access for those eligible."


The environment committee also condemned the 2Mbps target for homes not reached by superfast broadband by 2017 as being at least five times too slow.

The committee chair, Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, said: "This is a minimum speed commitment to the public and it must reflect modern technological demands. It is not high enough."

She said 10Mbps would be a more suitable target and would need to be regularly reviewed to ensure the UK did not slip behind other European countries.

On this point a DCMS spokesman said work was "already in place to take superfast speeds to the final 5%", and it aimed to get every home in the UK up to the minimum speed of 2Mbps by the end of 2015 - two years ahead of schedule.

The spokesman added: "Government and local authorities are investing £1.7bn in taking superfast broadband to rural communities across the UK who would otherwise be left behind.

"This is significantly more than what we have made available to cities, and reflects the importance this government places on taking faster and more reliable broadband to rural areas."

The report also pointed out potential problems with the European Union's farm subsidy programme - known as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) - applications for which, since the start of the year, have been online only.

"CAP payments offer a prime example of the wider government policy to make services 'digital-by-default'," it said.

"This policy has clear ramifications when broadband access is limited or non-existent."

The committee also highlighted a previous warning from BT that the deadline of delivering superfast broadband to 95% of homes and businesses by 2017 could slip to 2018 - but both a government spokesman and BT said the original target remained "on track".

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