Government launches ‘Project Gigabit’ 

Government launches ‘Project Gigabit’ 

The government has announced ‘Project Gigabit’, its mission to deliver gigabit-capable broadband across the UK. The project will be a series of phases, with the first phase providing one million hard-to-reach buildings with gigabit coverage and new funding for gigabit vouchers. An extra £210 million worth of vouchers will be released to help those with slow speeds, and another £110 million will connect up to 7,000 rural GP surgeries, libraries and schools. Up to 510,000 homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley will be the first to benefit as part of the project, with contracts for these first areas going to tender in the spring.

This follows the consultation in December which asked for input from local and devolved government and telecoms providers on how best to use public subsidy to deliver the government’s objectives. Preparations are underway for new procurement subsidies that providers can compete for in areas where the market would not otherwise be willing to invest due to high costs. The government will continue consulting with stakeholders to assess the extent of the plans and enable accurate targeting of intervention areas. The first phase will deliver a combination of longer-term Regional Supplier contracts covering county-sized areas, and more focused Local Supplier contracts. Providers are being asked to suggest further locations where they believe a Local Supplier procurement could offer good value for money.

Providers who are concerned that procurements will be run in areas where they already plan to build commercially have been assured that this will not be the case. Government will continue to use the Open Market Review and Public Review processes to survey the market’s plans for an area (similar to those that have previously been used for the Superfast Broadband Programme). Potential intervention areas and the boundaries of cross-regional, regional and local supplier procurements will be defined down to individual premises level, and interventions will avoid areas where commercially funded rollout is most likely.

In Scotland, over £15m has already been invested in providing gigabit-capable connections with local authorities and other public bodies including Shetlands Council, Highlands Council, NHS Scotland, Tay Cities, and Dumfries and Galloway through the Local Full Fibre Network and Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programmes. Further opportunities to bring forward deployment in Scotland are being explored (in addition to the Scottish government’s current large-scale broadband programme – the Reaching 100% (R100) programme – which will result in at least £600 million of public investment being routed through three regional contracts). The Northern Ireland government is currently delivering the large-scale broadband improvement scheme Project Stratum, which has £165 million of public investment. This will transform rural broadband connectivity by extending gigabit-capable full fibre broadband infrastructure to approximately 76,000 homes and businesses across Northern Ireland. In Wales, over £25 million has been invested in projects that will provide gigabit-capable connections to around 700 public sector sites across the country. Discussions are underway to develop future gigabit-capable interventions in Wales that align with those proposed in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, which to date has helped to connect over 40,000 homes and businesses, is being relaunched. The government is committing up to £210 million for vouchers worth up to £1,500 for residents and up to £3,500 for businesses in rural areas currently without access to ultrafast services as part of the UK Gigabit Programme from April 2021. The “top-up” approach will continue, enabling local authorities or devolved administrations to supplement the scheme.

Further details will be published in June, with an updated procurement pipeline every three months detailing dates and expected procurement contract values.

More detail on the government’s Project Gigabit plan can be found here.

Call for Evidence: Improving connectivity for Very Hard to Reach premises can be found here