New report criticises Government for lack of action to get higher speeds in some areas

Margaret Hodge

Margaret Hodge

First published in News Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , Parliamentary Correspondent

More action is needed to deliver superfast broadband to rural parts of the district, a highly-critical report by MPs demands today.

The alarm is raised over a lack of detailed information about areas that will miss out on speeds of at least 24mbps – making it impossible to “plug the gaps”.

Maps published by ‘Superfast West Yorkshire’ suggest areas west and north of Bradford – around Keighley Moor, Oxenhope, Ilkley Moor and east of Bramhope – could be left in the slow lane. And no information is published for areas south of the city, around Cleckheaton and Batley and stretching down to Huddersfield.

Now the powerful Commons public accounts committee (PAC) has criticised the Government for failing to ensure residents and businesses are given accurate information.

Its report, published today, blames confusion about the data local councils are allowed to release from BT, the monopoly supplier of the main broadband contracts.

And it urges the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) to end that uncertainty – by requiring openness “down to full (seven-digit) postcode level.”

That would allow rival broadband firms to bid for Government cash to supply the hardest-to-reach premises, in West Yorkshire and elsewhere.

Margaret Hodge, the PAC’s Labour chairman, said: “Communities can still not access the detailed data they need to understand whether they will be covered by BT’s scheme in their area.

“Other broadband providers might be squeezed out of the rural market by BT’s actions.”

Last September, Bradford and the other West Yorkshire authorities signed a £22m contract with BT, to extend high-speed fibre broadband to 97 per cent of premises by autumn 2015.

However, that will still leave three per cent of homes that will receive as low as 2Mbps – too slow for streaming most video content.

Around 132,000 premises in the district –13 per cent of the total – are currently poorly served, or have no access to broadband at all. The committee’s report also criticised a lack of “meaningful competition”, with BT snapping up all 44 of the sub-regional contracts for the £530m scheme.

That had led to BT “exploiting its monopoly position to the detriment of the taxpayer, local authorities and those seeking to access high-speed broadband in rural areas”.

Ministers have vowed that a new £10m scheme will exploit new technologies to deliver superfast speeds to “absolutely everybody”, but no date has been set.

Ms Hodge said ministers and officials would be hauled back before her committee if they failed to ensure publication of broadband data.

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