Plans to introduce a legal right for everyone in the UK to have minimum broadband speeds of 10Mbps next year will be "obsolete soon after introduction", a Parliamentary report has found.
The investigation by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (PDF) slammed government policy for barely keeping pace with the rate of technological change, saying it "has failed to reduce the digital divide between urban and rural areas".
Delivery of a 'digital-by-default' strategy for public services, before solving the issue of poor connectivity in rural areas, has worsened the digital divide...
As of January 2019, approximately 600,000 premises (2.1 per cent of the UK) had existing connections below the universal service obligation (USO) criteria. As of next year, consumers and businesses are eligible to request a connection under the USO if they do not have access to a decent broadband connection. The USO is set for rollout in March 2020.
The committee also said that while it "welcomes the ambition of the new prime minister to deliver universal full-fibre broadband by 2025", it "is not confident that the government has fully grasped the scale of the challenge currently faced and is sceptical as to whether the government will meet these ambitious new targets without considerable and potentially controversial reforms."
Chairman Neil Parish MP added: "On the eve of 5G mobile data services, people in rural areas will increasingly feel like second-class citizens if they can't access 4G or even 3G services.
"Rural roaming must be seen as a solution, if no voluntary proposal is agreed between mobile network operators and government.
"The problem of poor connectivity in rural areas has gone on for far too long. With so many of our public services now delivered primarily online, it is imperative that this problem is resolved and that rural communities are granted the same digital access as the majority of their urban counterparts."
The report also said the delivery of a "digital-by-default" strategy for public services, before solving the issue of poor connectivity in rural areas, has worsened the digital divide.
For example, the Association of Convenience Stores highlighted that HMRC's Making Tax Digital reforms, which seek to fully digitise the tax system by 2020 and require compatible software to keep digital records, underlines the importance of reliable internet connections for rural businesses.
The report recommends a "rural roaming" solution to tackle partial "not-spots" in mobile coverage in the absence of a forthcoming agreement between government and mobile network operators.
Under those proposals, networks would be required to allow customers of another operator to "roam" onto their network in areas where the customer's provider did not have coverage, in a similar way to roaming on local networks when abroad. ®