UK government gigabit broadband scheme nears half a million new premises benchmark

UK government celebrates reaching gigabit broadband services deployment milestone as part of its ambitious target over the lifetime of parliament

The UK government is claiming success for its gigabit broadband deployment scheme, which has now almost passed the benchmark of half a million connected premises since its launch in summer 2018, backed by investment of £1bn until 2021.

The UK government is committed to delivering nationwide gigabit-capable broadband as soon as possible, with the ambition to deliver it by 2025. It says such next-generation connectivity has the potential to revolutionise communities and make them more attractive places to live, giving people the freedom to live and work more flexibly and help develop thriving digital economies.

In the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019, prime minister Boris Johnson’s then newly elected government indicated it would introduce laws to accelerate the delivery of gigabit-capable broadband across the UK by 2025, a legislative journey that began in January 2020. The 2020 Budget statement confirmed the UK government’s commitment to invest a total of £5bn to roll out full-fibre broadband across the country.

The UK government calculates that by the end of the fourth quarter of the 19/20 financial year, 464,458 premises now have access to a gigabit-capable connection through the redirected Superfast Broadband Programme, meaning 493,600 premises now have access to or are connected to gigabit capable broadband. In completing the deployments, the UK government has issued nearly 45,000 vouchers, worth more than £90m to subsidise the cost of building faster, gigabit-capable broadband infrastructure to homes and businesses.

The UK government vouchers are worth up to £1,500 for rural homes and up to £3,500 for rural small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) provided they come together as a collective of two or more properties.

To date, through the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, more than 3,500 vouchers have been issued to rural homes and businesses in Somerset, nearly 2,000 in Cumbria, and more than a thousand going to Kent, Lancashire, Hampshire, West Yorkshire and Surrey. In June, the UK and Welsh governments announced that more than 50,000 rural homes and businesses in the country could be eligible to have their broadband upgraded as part of the voucher scheme, which is open until March 2021.

Why the scheme is being targeted at rural, hard-to-reach areas, the UK government believes such places aren’t likely to be connected through the commercial roll-out of gigabit networks. Indeed, the roll-outs of gigabit broadband by Virgin Media have included Liverpool and Edinburgh and then weeks later followed by Leeds, Bradford and Glasgow.

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In London, altnet Community Fibre is working to a plan to deliver 1Gbps of full-fibre broadband to London communities and up to 10Gbps to businesses. It has just has seen its controlling equity acquired by private equity firm Warburg Pincus and specialist technology investment management group DTCP, alongside existing investors Amber Infrastructure and RPMI Railpen.

Adding such commercial deployments, more than 7.5 million premises can now access gigabit-capable broadband, compared with around 1.4 million premises two years ago. Currently, gigabit broadband is available to about 26% of residential and business premises across the UK, but estimates show only 30% of premises are taking up these services where they are available.

To further boost deployment, the UK government is considering whether to give broadband firms access to more than a million kilometres of underground utility ducts to boost the roll-out of next-generation broadband, as it pursues plans to establish gigabit broadband across the country.

It is also setting up as Gigabit Take-Up Advisory Group (GigaTAG) to lead a strategic review into boosting take-up as gigabit connections among consumers and businesses become more widely available.

The group will look at encouraging more consumers to engage with the new technology and to take advantage of the benefits that they will bring. It will specifically explore increasing business take-up by promoting the benefits that gigabit broadband has brought to companies that already have it, and the role firms can play in incentivising their employees to upgrade too.

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