Ongoing digital inequality could 'lock out' rural homes and businesses of superfast broadband for 'years to come', according to a cross-party group of MPs.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned that those in rural areas 'may have to pay more, and may reach gigabit broadband speeds late'.
It comes as the government published in November 2020 a revised target of 'at least 85%' coverage by 2025.
But PAC said the government had committed less than a quarter of the £5bn funding needed to support roll-out to the hardest to reach 20% of premises.
The Committee said the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had 'failed to make meaningful progress' to tackle the barriers faced by operators in maximising gigabit connectivity by 2025.
MPs who sit on the Committee added that the department had 'failed yet again' to prioritise consumers in rural areas.
DCMS is still developing the £5bn programme to subsidise roll-out to the hardest to reach 20% of the UK’s 31 million premises.
However, the department could not tell the Committee when it intends to deliver major milestones, such as the letting of contracts.
PAC is “increasingly concerned that those in rural areas may have to pay more, and may reach gigabit broadband speeds late.”
It is also not convinced that “if and when rural users finally do get gigabit broadband, they will enjoy the same choice of service provider and the same protections as their urban counterparts”.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “With the grim announcement that the country and economy will be locked down for months, the government’s promises on digital connectivity are more important than ever.
"But due to a litany of planning and implementation failures at DCMS, those promises are slipping farther out of reach - even worse news for the 'rural excluded' who face years trying to recover with substandard internet connectivity.
“Government cannot allow digital inequality to continue to compound and exacerbate the economic inequality that has been so harshly exposed in the Covid-19 pandemic.
"It needs to be clear about timelines in each area so that businesses and individuals can plan for their digital future.”