Louise Haigh MP, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy, has once again taken the Government to task for their progress in providing high speed broadband internet.

Small Businesses in the Slow Laneslow broadband speeds

Earlier in the year, she had spoken about the gap between the Government’s speed and standard of provision and the real requirements of the modern economy.

“In Yorkshire our major cities, towns, swathes of our rural communities and thousands of small businesses are being left in the broadband slow-lane. The speed the Government want to guarantee barely amounts to basic broadband and will feel like a relic of a bygone age by the time it has been delivered.”

She also spoke about how slow internet speeds and poor connectivity were holding small businesses back.

“With 42 per cent of small businesses complaining about internet connectivity it’s time the Government got a grip. They deserve better than the second-best, out of date basic broadband the Government want them to put up with. And with evidence showing superfast will help fire-up the economy, it’s time this Government’s ambitions matched those of millions of consumers and small businesses.”

Better Broadband for All

Recently, she was shocked by new research by the independent House of Commons Library, which revealed that just 59% of rural Britain has access to superfast speeds and “an utterly shocking 40 %” in rural hamlets do not even have access to bare basic broadband. Meanwhile, she says, her own city of Sheffield has the poorest broadband availability of any major city in the UK.

“We need action because whether it is in the heart of Sheffield or the North York Moors, slow broadband has the same chilling effect on business. How exactly can farmers diversify, as the Government is constantly encouraging, when your access to the internet is at best slow and on bad days non-existent? How can you be expected to set up and promote a farm shop, sell your products online, and run a small business?”

She is now calling on everyone to back a Labour amendment to legislation currently going through the House of Lords, which will guarantee access to superfast broadband for all.

“If you request it, you will have a legal right to receive it: 400,000 small businesses and more than one million homes will benefit, many of them in rural Britain,” says the Shadow Minister.

“In my view, if it is good enough for Soho Village in central London, it should be good enough for the thousands of towns and villages currently left behind.”

The Digital Economy Bill

However, it seems the Digital Economy Bill will not bring the changes she and so many others hope for. The House of Lords amendments asked that the Government raise the minimum obligatory speed to 30Mbps by 2020, on the grounds that 10Mbps would be “unfit for usage in a very short time”.

They also wanted “upload speeds of 6 Mbps, committed information rates of 10 Mbps and an unlimited usage cap must be available to every household in the UK.”

Their proposed amendment also placed a duty on internet service providers to ensure that their networks offer the standard set “every household in areas of low population density, before deploying their network in urban areas”. It also required the Secretary of State to ensure that the roll out of the broadband universal service obligation prioritises SME’s premises.

But both the government and Ofcom want the universal service obligation to be raised gradually, with improvements introduced by secondary legislation. With a General Election looming, the Government are keen to push the bill through before the closing of parliament.

It seems likely that both the 30mbps obligation desired by the House of Lords and the original 2020 deadline for the obligation will not be part of the Bill when it is passed.