The UK minister of state for digital industries came under tough questioning about broadband in the House of Commons yesterday.
Ed Vaizey claimed that all UK homes have access to broadband and 97 percent have access to broadband at speeds of two megabits. He claimed superfast broadband availability has doubled, and the average speed of broadband has trebled.
He also claimed that the UK has the lowest prices for broadband of the big five countries in the European Union, and in the United States.
But that position was questioned by Tory MP Anne McIntosh. She claimed that 28 percent of farms and rurals businesses in Thirsk, Malton and Filey won’t have any fast speed broadband by 2016. She asked Vaizey what steps his department was taking to allow acccess. He claimed the government was well ahead with its plans in North Yorkshire.
Helen Goodman, Labour’s shadow minister of Culture, Media and Sport said that while many people were pleased with the recent announcement of 1,000 free wi-fi spots across the UK, the department’s own map shows that Glasgow, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Bristol – with a combined population of four million – seemed to have no provision at all.
Vaizey said that the governmetn worked with the cities “so they came up with their own proposals… It is up to the cities how they choose to use the money”.
A complaint from Labour MP Helen Goodman, shadow minister for media and communications, looks like it will lead to an investigation from the UK’s National Audit Office about the “value-for-money” of the 4G auction.
A letter seen by the Guardian from NAO’s auditor general Amyas Morse to Labour MP Helen Goodman confirmed that the Office intends to “conduct a value-for-money study of Ofcom’s recent auction of 4G spectrum”. The NAO is apparently getting the investigation ready, prompted by Goodman’s complaints, which raised Ofcom chief exec Ed Richards’ concerns that the Coalition hadn’t focused on maximising auction revenues.
Goodman told Morse that “by not making maximising the auction’s revenues an objective for Ofcom, the government has failed to get value for money on this project”.
The Treasury forecasted £3.5 billion from the auction, a small amount next to 200’s 3G auction which raised £22.5 billion.
Auction bidders themselves have stated the auction had been poorly designed – as Ofcom didn’t raise the amount the government was looking for, or make sure spectrum went to everybody who wanted it, an anonymous bidder told the Guardian.
The NAO will not be able to force another auction, however, a report will go to the Commons public accounts committee – which can grill chancellor George Osborne for a response.
However, Ofcom claimed the auction was a success which “will deliver the maximum benefit to UK citizens and consumers in line with Ofcom’s statutory duties”. The body insisted the auction will create satisfactory competition which will lead to further investment. “The auction was designed to promote competition and ensure coverage, rather than to raise money,” an Ofcom spokesperson said.