Government announces Project Gigabit launch
19 Mar 2021 12:55 PM
The first phase of the Government’s ‘Project Gigabit’ has launched, with the first areas set to benefit from publicly funded gigabit-capable broadband. More than one million homes in areas with poor connectivity will benefit from the scheme, with work planned to start in early 2022. The Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme will renew in next month, with £210 million in funding.
Project Gigabit will also allocate £110 million to connect up to 7,000 rural GP surgeries, libraries and schools, which will act as “hubs” to get gigabit-capable networks into the heart of countryside communities and incentivise other broadband companies to build off them. Recognising the challenge of connecting the remotest areas across the UK, a new call for evidence seeks to explore how innovative new technologies—such as satellite and 5G mobile technology—might help solve these connectivity challenges.
Matt Evans, Director – Markets, techUK commented:
“Project Gigabit is the missing piece of the puzzle for delivering world class digital infrastructure to the whole of the UK, with the private sector set to deliver up to 80% coverage following Ofcom’s announcement yesterday. Gigabit services will help boost national and regional economies, improve the resilience of our networks and help transform how we deliver public services. To accelerate the pace of the rollout it is essential that Government works with the grain of industry’s existing offerings which is why the voucher scheme is particularly welcome.
However, if we are to meet the ambitious targets for Gigabit coverage, then Government must bring forward more than the £1.2bn that is currently allocated up to 2025. This, combined with action to reduce barriers to deployment, will ensure that the hardest to reach businesses and households benefit from better connectivity as quickly as possible”.
Delivery plan for Project Gigabit
The announcement is the Government’s response to its consultation (Planning for Gigabit Delivery), which outlined its strategy to make local, regional and cross-regional contracts available for broadband network providers of all different sizes to bid for. The first procurements announced are for Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley. In June, the next procurements are expected, connecting up 640,000 premises in Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
This first release of procurement contracts for England follows central Scotland recently being named as the first area to receive Project Gigabit funding.
Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme - April 2021
Vouchers worth up to £1,500 for residents and up to £3,500 for businesses will go live on 8 April 2021 for rural areas, without having to wait for supplier contracts under Project Gigabit to reach them. The vouchers cover the installation costs of bringing gigabit connectivity to hard to reach premises. £210 million in funding will support the renewed voucher scheme, which since launching in March 2018, has issued 66,000 vouchers across the UK.
Public sector buildings
Funding has also been allocated to connect public buildings such as rural schools, doctors’ surgeries and libraries to gigabit broadband, in order to help improve public services, and also act as hubs to get gigabit-capable networks into the heart of communities and incentivise other broadband companies to build off them.
Alternative connectivity options for remote areas
The small percentage of premises in the remote and isolated locations in the UK where it may be too expensive to build a fixed network to, may be set to benefit from alternative technology options such as satellite. A call for evidence has been launched to explore innovative new technologies— like new wireless equipment, low-orbit satellites or high altitude platforms—and how these could connect very remote places to gigabit capable speeds, as well as becoming eligible for public subsidy.
Update on the work of the Barrier Busting Task Force
DCMS has also published an update on the work of its Barrier Busting Taskforce. The Taskforce has worked on a number of changes, including the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act, a Digital Connectivity Portal, to provide guidance to both operators, local authorities, landowners as well as other stakeholders, on core issues including best practice guides to street works, the Electronic Communications Code and how to engage with operators, and a new Street Manager service.