Broadband investment welcome, but remember final 5%

BT Group chief executive Gavin Patterson.
BT Group chief executive Gavin Patterson.

An announcement of further investment in broadband and 4G technology is welcome, but more must be done in rural areas to ensure the ‘final five per cent’ is not disadvantaged.

BT has announced a further wave of investment to help the UK with its Openreach and EE businesses to spend around £6billion over the next three years in the first phase of a plan to extend superfast broadband and 4G coverage beyond 95 per cent of the country by 2020.

BT Group chief executive, Gavin Patterson, said: “The UK is a digital leader today and it is vital that it remains one in the future. That is why we are announcing a further £6billion of investment in our UK networks, subject to regulatory certainty.

“Networks require money and a lot of it. Virgin and BT have both pledged to invest and we will now see if others follow our lead.

“Infrastructure competition is good for the UK and so is the current Openreach model whereby others can piggyback on our investment should they want to.”

However, Countryside Alliance head of policy, Sarah Lee, said: “We welcome the announcement, but must still point out that the improvement figure will only extend to 95 per cent of areas. While this is good news, we cannot have a 95 per cent service for 100 per cent need.

“There must also be a clear commitment and delivery of broadband to those households and businesses in rural areas who are in the ‘final five per cent’ that won’t be covered by this investment.

“If we want the countryside to compete economically and socially then we need assurances and urgent action so that hard-working rural businesses and families are not disadvantaged.”

In January this year, Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan called for an end to BT’s ‘broadband monopoly’, as a co-signee of a critical report, BroadBad.

At the time, a BT spokeswoman cited the firm’s efforts to equip rural areas, saying: “In excess of 70 per cent of households in the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency have already been upgraded and this will increase to more than 90 per cent by the end of the current plans.