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In what is said to mark the start of a flurry of delivery contracts to be awarded over the coming months, work has kicked off on the first major contract under the UK government’s £5bn Project Gigabit national broadband programme, with ultra-high-speed connectivity being made available to homes and businesses in rural Dorset.
Project Gigabit is designed to accelerate the UK’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. The UK government says 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.
Under the scheme, 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, in the first phase of an infrastructure project into which the government has invested £5bn.
The delivery plan for Project Gigabit is a response by the UK government to its public consultation, Planning for gigabit delivery in 2021, which sought views on how to spend its £5bn funding commitment for gigabit broadband in hard-to-reach areas, complementing industry investment from the likes of Openreach, Virgin Media and CityFibre to ensure these harder to reach areas benefit from the same gigabit broadband as the rest of the country.
In Dorset, more than 7,000 hard-to-reach premises said to be currently struggling with slow speeds will be connected under a £6m contract awarded by the UK government to Wessex Internet. The announcement for Dorset is the first large-scale scheme under Project Gigabit to deliver gigabit connections to a regional area en masse. Now the contract in Dorset has been awarded, the government will work with Wessex Internet and the local authority to begin planning the construction of the gigabit-capable network, with spades set to enter the ground in the coming weeks.
The first home will be connected by the end of the 2022, with an expected completion date for all by 2025. The project will cover the rural outskirts of towns, villages and hamlets across the region, from Sherborne to Verwood and Shaftesbury to Blandford Forum. “As a business based in North Dorset, our priority has always been to bring fast, reliable broadband to rural communities overlooked by other providers,” said Wessex Internet CEO Hector Gibson Fleming.
“We believe passionately that rural areas must have access to gigabit-capable connectivity and the exciting benefits it brings for homes, businesses and communities,” he said. “Over the last four years, we have connected thousands of homes and businesses across the South West to full fibre broadband and are excited to accelerate our roll-out further with this new contract.”
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In the past five months alone, a million UK premises have been connected to gigabit networks, according to the UK government, which called the growth a “tremendous achievement” given the first million premises took more than eight years to connect.
The rate at which gigabit-capable internet connections are installed has increased threefold, added the government, with companies such as Wessex Internet connecting premises at a rate of one every seven seconds.
Part of the overall national programme, the government has already launched procurements totalling more than £690m, aiming to cover up to 498,000 premises, with work due to begin to connect hard-to-reach areas in Cornwall, Cambridgeshire, Cumbria and several areas across north-east England before the end of the year.
More than 740,000 premises have been connected through UK government funding so far, mainly through extending the government’s Superfast programme to provide gigabit-capable connections, the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, and initiatives to connect hospitals, GP surgeries, libraries and other public buildings.
In July 2022, the UK government announced that primary school pupils living in the country’s rural areas will be able to enjoy lessons powered by gigabit broadband connections as it invests to level-up internet access through a joint £82m investment from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education.