UK Government launches £5bn Project Gigabit
The UK government has announced a £5 billion infrastructure project that will connect "more than one million hard to reach homes and businesses" in the first phase.
Project Gigabit will see available speeds increase to one gigabit per second.
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. Contracts for these first areas will go to tender in the spring with "spades in the ground" in the first half of 2022.
This will be followed in June with connection projects for 640,000 premises in Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
The Gigabit Broadband voucher scheme will be reintroduced, offering up to £210 million to give people in eligible rural areas immediate financial help to get gigabit speeds.
On top of this the government is making up to £110 million available to connect public sector buildings - such as GP surgeries, libraries and schools - in the hardest to reach parts of the UK with this revolutionary infrastructure.
Digital secretary Oliver Dowden (pictured) said: "Project Gigabit is our national mission to plug in and power up every corner of the UK and get us gigafit for the future.
"We have already made rapid progress, with almost 40% of homes and businesses now able to access next-generation gigabit speeds, compared to just 9% in 2019. Now we are setting out our plans to invest £5 billion in remote and rural areas so that no one is left behind by the connectivity revolution.
"That means no more battling over the bandwidth, more freedom to live and work anywhere in the country, and tens of thousands of new jobs created as we deliver a game-changing infrastructure upgrade," Dowden added.
The news broke only a day after Ofcom published its latest five-year Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review. One of the policy updates will see more than two-thirds of UK properties given a choice of fibre networks.
In response to Project Gigabit, Matthew Evans, director for markets at TechUK, said: "Project Gigabit is the missing piece of the puzzle for delivering world class digital infrastructure to the whole of the UK, with the private sector set to deliver up to 80% coverage following Ofcom’s announcement yesterday.
"Gigabit services will help boost national and regional economies, improve the resilience of our networks and help transform how we deliver public services. To accelerate the pace of the rollout it is essential that Government works with the grain of industry’s existing offerings which is why the voucher scheme is particularly welcome," he added,
However, funding remains a sticking point. In November, chancellor Rishi Sunak's spending review saw targets revised down from 100% national fibre coverage to “85% minimum” coverage. As much as £5 billion remained on the table, however, only £1.2 billion would be available ahead of the 2025 deadline.
He continued: "However, if we are to meet the ambitious targets for Gigabit coverage, then Government must bring forward more than the £1.2bn that is currently allocated up to 2025. This, combined with action to reduce barriers to deployment, will ensure that the hardest to reach businesses and households benefit from better connectivity as quickly as possible”.
Matthew O’Neill, head of networks at NTT DATA UK, said: “This is an important step in democratising broadband across the UK.
“Project Gigabit will be integral to our recovery from Covid, ensuring that everyone can access and benefit from modern technology. With the UK on track for one of the fastest gigabit rollouts in Europe, the government must continue to work alongside telco providers to ensure we meet this ambitious target. This process will be aided by consistent work to encourage fair competition in the sector, as well as regulations and penalties to minimise any delays in rollout.”