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Networks

Ed Vaizey is right, Matt Hancock hasn't improved broadband

'Hancock pinched all my ideas' jokes former digi minister

By Kat Hall

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Comment For all digital minister Matt Hancock's rhetoric about 'full-fibre' investment, Blighty's digital infrastructure still remains unchanged.

In the budget yesterday, yet more announcements were made about 5G and full-fibre broadband.

However, according to insiders the £400m for fibre funding, announced in the autumn statement last year, has yet to be allocated.

So when former digital minister Ed Vaizey told delegates at the Parliament and Internet Conference this week that he doesn't think much has changed under Hancock's tenure as digi minister, you can see his point. Vaizey had held that post for six years.

He said: "I was until July 14th 2016 the telecoms minister but I got fired at 5.37pm. I am not bitter about it," he said. "I got a call from Downing Street and they said the prime minister will call in 15 minutes... and as I drove off I realised I lost my mobile signal, so I kept my job slightly longer because of my abject failure to improve mobile coverage in the UK."

He joked that Hancock had "stolen all my ideas", such as tax relief for new investment and making it easier for local councils to grant planning permission.

Vaizey has repeatedly been accused of being a BT apologist, most notably for his role in the Broadband UK programme, which eventually saw the former state monopoly win all the contracts.

But that programme is now on track to deliver superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by 2018, something Vaizey said he feels "utterly vindicated" about. "I don't think Hancock has done any better or worse than I would have done," he said.

"He's not exposed some hidden silver bullet, and isn't going to deliver revolutionary broadband," he said. "As a nation we've not sprinted ahead or fallen behind... even Matt Hancock who is several levels above me in terms of energy and capability has not been able to discover a new way forward."

For Vaizey, there have been far worse programmes than the rural broadband project. "Smart meters has been one of worst run programme in government... It has been an absolute catastrophe," he said. "It shows you how well run rural broadband programme was [by contrast]."

(Although former Public Accounts Committee head Margaret Hodge clocked the committee's failure to convince the Department for Culture Media and Sport not give BT all of the £2bn of public subsidy, as a defeat).

Certainly until we start seeing some stats to suggest the UK's fibre infrastructure has increased from just 2 per cent, or progress on connecting the last few per cent who cannot get even 10Mbps, Hancock cannot claim to have moved the dial. ®

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