UK government to drive gigabit broadband to half a million more rural UK homes

Project Gigabit quarterly update Autumn 2021 reveals the estimated sequencing, scope and dates for the English Phase 3 rural projects which will see 570,000 more rural premises in line for full-fibre broadband.

In the latest part of what it calls a gigabit-speed revolution, the £5bn Project Gigabit, an estimated 567,000 hard-to-reach premises across Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Essex, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, East Riding and North Yorkshire are in line to be the next to be connected to full-fibre networks.

The biggest broadband roll-out in UK history, Project Gigabit was announced in March 2021. Through the programme, the UK government aims to deliver next-generation gigabit broadband to more than a million homes and businesses in what are regarded as hard-to-reach places.

The government claims that Project Gigabit will accelerate the country’s recovery from Covid-19, fire up high-growth sectors such as tech and the creative industries, and level up the country, spreading wealth and creating jobs across Britain.

It said the projects it funds will prioritise areas that currently have slow connections and would otherwise have been left behind in broadband companies’ roll-out plans. Most of the gigabit-capable connections will be delivered through full-fibre broadband cables.

The delivery plan for Project Gigabit is a response by the government to its public consultation Planning for Gigabit Delivery in 2021, which sought views on how to spend its record £5bn funding commitment for gigabit broadband in hard-to-reach areas. It outlined a strategy to make local, regional and cross-regional contracts available for broadband network providers of all sizes to bid for.

Project Gigabit began by connecting up to 510,000 homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley. Contracts for these first areas went to tender this spring and spades in the ground are expected in the first half of 2022.

In June, the government announced the next procurements to connect up to 640,000 premises in Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

The new properties included in the Project Gigabit quarterly update Autumn 2021 cover 10 English and six Scottish counties that were not currently due for a gigabit upgrade from broadband companies or other public schemes, and so the government said it is necessary to subsidise the roll-out of new internet infrastructure capable of download speeds of 1 Gbps.

The projects will help the government deliver its target for at least 85% of the UK to have access to a gigabit-capable connection by 2025. The UK has already hit 57% gigabit coverage, up from less than 6% in 2019.

The English projects are due to go out to procurement for broadband companies in 2023, with work to build the connections set to commence early 2024. The estimated contract commencement date will run from April to September 2024.

In Scotland 3,600 premises in Aberdeenshire, Angus, the Highlands, Moray and Perth & Kinross will now get access to gigabit connectivity. The Scottish premises were due to get access to superfast broadband through the Reaching 100% (R100) programme, a Scottish government initiative which aims to deliver connections capable of 30 megabits per second to every home and business in Scotland, but with £8m of Project Gigabit funding, the home and businesses will now get gigabit-capable broadband instead.

In other parts of the UK, the UK government has already announced measures to bring better broadband to Wales and Northern Ireland. In Wales, up to 234,000 hard-to-reach premises have been revealed as in-scope for an upgrade through Project Gigabit, and in Northern Ireland the UK government has invested £150m through Project Stratum to level up areas with slow speeds.

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