MPs gloomy on govt connectivity goals, shows new survey


A survey of 104 Conservative and Labour MPs found less than a quarter believes the UK will meet its targets for gigabit broadband and 5G rollouts

This week, a new connectivity report from Cluttons titled ‘Connecting today for tomorrow‘ has painted a bleak picture of the UK’s ongoing connectivity infrastructure rollouts.

The study, which surveyed over 104 MPs and over 500 councillors from all major parties, showed that confidence is low that the government’s connectivity goals, related to both gigabit-capable broadband and 5G, would be reached by their 2030 deadline.

Of the MPs surveyed, only a quarter were confident the government can meet its own targets of making gigabit-capable broadband available to over 99% of properties by 2030. The situation was even less positive for 5G, with only a fifth of MPs confident the UK can reach nationwide 5G standalone coverage by 2030.

Of course, the torrid political environment in which this survey takes place should be noted here, particularly in an election year. Opposition (Labour) MPs are somewhat motivated to disavow the effectiveness of the existing government’s projects, and this is clearly reflected in their survey answers. Only 3% of surveyed Labour MPs said the government will meet its 5G targets, with none at all saying it would meet the gigabit-capable broadband goals.

What is more concerning, however, is the lack of confidence shown from the incumbent Conservative MPs. Less than half (44%) were confident that the country’s broadband goals would be met, while only a third (33%) were positive on meeting 5G coverage targets.

With five and a half years still to go until we hit 2030, it is hard to say whether these sentiments are overly pessimistic or not. When it comes to broadband rollout, the start of the year saw the government announce that gigabit-capable broadband is now available at 80% of premises across the UK, just 5% short of its target for the end of 2025.

However, as the national rollout gets more and more advanced, the remaining premises will become harder – and more expensive – to cover with gigabit-capable infrastructure. The government is already targeting many of these (primarily rural) areas with funding programmes, such as the £5 billion Project Gigabit and the Shared Rural Network project, but whether this will be enough to reach every premise by 2030 remains to be seen.

For 5G, the situation is even murkier. Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2023 report, released last September, stated that “the level of 5G coverage provided outside of premises by at least one mobile network operator (MNO) rose from 67–78% in 2022 (across a range covering Very High and High Confidence levels of availability) to 85–93% in 2023”, and this is still increasing.

It is worth noting, however, that this Ofcom report does not differentiate between non-standalone and standalone 5G. In fact, of the UK’s four mobile network operators, only Vodafone and Virgin Media O2 have launched commercial standalone 5G services so far, and even these launches are confined to a small number of cities. BT (EE) says it is still testing the technology and is aiming for a commercial launch in H2 this year, while Three UK has yet to announce any standalone plans at all, presumably due to uncertainty around its merger with Vodafone.

Upgrading to 5G standalone has been on the operators’ to-do list for a number of years now, but the process’s cost, complexity, and unclear path to monetisation means that urgency remains relatively low. Existing deployments are only in densely populated urban areas, with remote areas unlikely to receive the upgrade in the short-term.

In addition to the MPs’ lack of positivity around infrastructure itself, the report also highlights some the issues that underpin this trend; namely, a perceived lack of consumer understanding about the benefits of 5G and gigabit broadband.

Only 12% of MPs said that they were confident their constituents understood and would support the rollout of these technologies, while 46% said they were not confident this was the case. Local councillors were similarly gloomy, with just 28% saying local residents understood the benefits of gigabit broadband and 19% the benefits of 5G.

Clearly, greater public education around connectivity infrastructure is required, though how this can be achieved remains a challenge. The report suggested that a government-led information campaign could be a solution, a proposal to which 61% of MPs agreed.

Ultimately, this report reflects an environment in which ubiquitous connectivity is increasingly vital to the country’s economy and society, but delivering that infrastructure – and convincing the public of its value – is proving a struggle.

Is the government doing enough to support the UK’s ambitious connectivity goals? Join the operators in discussion at this year’s Connected Britain conference, the UK’s largest digital economy event

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