The £1.7bn government-sponsored superfast broadband programme, BDUK, has now reached over one million premises around the UK, and is on track to hit its target of 95% nationwide coverage by 2017, said culture secretary Sajid Javid.
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The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announcement comes the day after it released its second quarter update to 30 June 2014, which showed that over 800,000 premises had a 24Mbps or above superfast broadband service made available under the BDUK project. (Note that DCMS does not include properties receiving speeds of under 24Mbps in its statistics, even if said properties are receiving speeds of over the minimum 2Mbps commitment.)
In the second quarter the government spent about £72.4m on the project meaning that, for every million pounds spent, it reached over 12,000 premises. Financial figures for the month of July 2014 will be disclosed in September 2014.
The government claimed the scheme delivered returns of £20 for every £1 invested, and would secure increased profits for UK businesses and over 50,000 long-term jobs, as well as £1.5bn in benefits to local economies from the roll-out work alone.
Culture secretary Sajid Javid remarked: “It is totally transforming the way we live and work. You can download feature-length films faster, chatting online with family and friends around the world using voice over internet protocol (VOIP) is more reliable and households can go online simultaneously without the connection slowing down or dropping out.
“For businesses, superfast speeds are boosting profits through increased sales, reduced overheads and accessing markets abroad for the first time.”
BT chief executive Gavin Patterson added: “Getting fibre to rural areas is hard and often complex work, but we are making great progress. BT has brought technical expertise to the table as well as hundreds of millions of pounds. Some of the early projects are close to completion and further funds will be released if we come in under budget or take-up exceeds expectations.”
However, DCMS’s report highlighted the scale of the work remaining and, in particular, showed substantial gaps in deployment, which DCMS said was down to contracts being awarded and starting at different times.
Successes and failures
Elsewhere, in Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire, under 2,000 properties have been hooked up apiece. On the Isle of Wight not one single home or business has received access to superfast broadband through BDUK.
A DCMS spokesperson told Computer Weekly: "The progress so far reflects the scale of the projects, their start date, and the rate of delivery that has been achieved. The Isle of Wight is due to get its first premises live in the next few days and is a small project and one of the last to start."
The government is also beginning to take the problem of hitting the remaining 5% more seriously, with a number of options under consideration to help bring superfast broadband to those areas not covered by BDUK. A trial scheme of technologies such as satellite and wireless is currently underway in eight pilot locations.
BDUK deadline doubts
It is hoped that as new technologies and delivery approaches were identified, the roll-out into the final 5% areas could start before the 2017 deadline, depending on costs and viability of delivery.
The report highlighted a number of areas it dubbed "poorer cousins", including Aberdeenshire, Moray, Herefordshire and the Shetland Islands, which were still expected to be receiving slow broadband speeds in 2017.
The report suggested that the pressure to ensure value for money, and the size of the funding pot, meant that BDUK was reaching mostly the cheapest areas to address.
A DCMS spokesman responded: "The current projects are on track and we do not believe there is any reason for them to fall behind schedule. Many of the more readily achievable areas are being delivered first, allowing more people to benefit sooner, and the plans account for the fact that delivery may be slower to the harder to reach premises."