Project Gigabit

The Government announced last week ‘Project Gigabit’ which will be launching in April, bringing together everything the government is doing to enable and deliver digital connectivity for the entire country

It says ‘More than one million hard to reach homes and businesses will have next generation gigabit broadband built to them in the first phase of a £5 billion government infrastructure project.’

The Programme sets out:

  • First areas to benefit from £5bn government funding for fastest broadband connections to help recovery from the pandemic, growth and levelling up
  • Extra £210m worth of vouchers released to help those with slow speeds
  • £110m to connect up to 7,000 rural GP surgeries, libraries and schools
  • Call for evidence on using satellite and 5G technology to connect very hard to reach areas

The Government announced areas which will be in the first phase for the building of next generation gigabit broadband with 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 as part of ‘Project Gigabit’.

The successful Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme is also being relaunched with 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.

Very Hard to Reach Areas - Call for evidence

The Government also sets out a Call for Evidence for Very Hard to Reach Areas, which closes on 11 June 2021 and says:

"The UK has some very remote places that may be too expensive to build a gigabit-capable broadband network to, even with substantial public subsidy.

Thanks to completed or pending government-funded projects, less than 0.3% of the country or less than 100,000 premises are likely to fall into this category.

For these premises, which are mainly located in remote and isolated locations in Scotland and Wales, and some National Parks in England, a call for evidence has been launched to explore the barriers to improving their broadband and how innovative new technologies might help change this.

This could lead to the government encouraging industry to use new wireless equipment, low-orbit satellites or high altitude platforms to beam faster connections to far-flung homes and businesses.

The government has already made investments in wireless, satellite and hybrid-fibre technologies, and continues to explore emerging technologies in this area. Some of these technologies are also gigabit-capable and eligible for UK Gigabit Programme funding today."  You can see the CALL FOR EVIDENCE and respond to the survey at this link.

The Rural Services Network campaigns for Rural Digital Connectivity as part of it’s Revitalising Rural Campaign, recognising the important role that access to connectivity can have in connecting rural communities and enabling training, employment, access to healthcare and services.

Unfortunately Some 7% of rural premises (or 274,000 households and businesses) in England cannot access a decent fixed broadband connection of 10 Mbps. 1 This is the threshold set for the broadband USO, which the regulator (Ofcom) considers necessary for everyday use, though it is likely to prove inadequate for many business or home working users. Some 16% of rural premises in England cannot access a superfast broadband connection of 30 Mbps. A sixth of rural premises cannot yet benefit from superfast speeds.

The RSN sets out a number of policy asks of Government for Digital Connectivity as below:

Broadband USO: industry regulator, Ofcom, should review and upgrade the broadband Universal Service Obligation, which (at 10 Mbps) is out-of-date and inadequate for, what have become, some everyday essential uses. To reflect the new normal the USO should be upgraded to superfast broadband download speeds of 25 to 30 Mbps minimum. Costs passed on to consumers seeking a USO connection must be reasonable. This would level the playing field for rural residents and businesses until gigabit capable connectivity can be rolled out.

Gigabit-capable connectivity: the Government goal for universal gigabit-capable networks, achieved with public investment to ensure their roll out in unviable rural areas, is welcome. However, announcements in late 2020 that 15% of premises will be excluded from the 2025 target and that firm public funding for that period is reduced from £5 billion to £1.2 billion are hugely disappointing. Published procurement plans make clear that it is premises in highly rural or remoter areas which could again be left behind. This effectively abandons the outside-in approach which was set out by Government in 2018. Government should work urgently with the telecoms industry and revisit its plans for the period to 2025. Digital connectivity will be key to levelling up rural areas and their economies. All rural areas need clarity when they will receive gigabit-capable connectivity and remote areas with the worst connectivity should be first in line for that public investment.

Mobile networks: the Shared Rural Network initiative, to plug gaps in 4G provision, is helpful, if not a total solution. Delivery of this initiative must be carefully and transparently monitored by Ofcom, to ensure that network providers are on track to meet their objectives and targets. Options should also be explored to address any remaining mobile ‘not spots’ by 2025. Government should announce some further rural trials to pilot 5G connectivity, including its use within health and social care provision.

Digital skills and inclusion: Government should announce a fully funded Digital Inclusion Programme, so no citizens (rural or otherwise) are left behind due to their lack of online skills or their inability to pay for basic equipment and connection charges. Key strands are likely to include training and the recycling of IT. As recently highlighted by the Communications Consumer Panel, the Covid-19 experience has brought home just how important this issue now is, with some left isolated and struggling to access basic services, such as shopping, banking, education and health care. Although it will require national resource, this should be a locally delivered programme, involving statutory, private and voluntary sector organisations working in partnership.


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.