The government has reported here on Project Gigabit, the plan to upgrade high speed broadband to help families and businesses by making it easier and faster to do things online.
As the world’s digital revolution continues apace, the infrastructure that connects us is more important than ever. This is the third Project Gigabit quarterly update and, thanks to the work of industry and our record £5 billion investment, we are making phenomenal progress delivering the biggest broadband rollout in UK history.
Britain has now passed the connectivity halfway mark. More than 57 percent of UK homes and businesses - that’s 17.5 million properties - can now access the fastest broadband speeds available; and children in more than a thousand schools are now enjoying gigabit internet speeds thanks to government investment.
While we have already made great strides, we still have some of the most challenging parts of our four nations to reach - a considerable undertaking involving industry, regulators, investors, local councils, MPs, consumer groups, landowners, landlords, and citizens working together to push us further and faster towards being a fully gigabit nation.
As gigabit-capable connectivity accelerates, the government will ensure the right measures are in place to support the market to deliver as much as possible, not least in connecting hard-to-reach premises.
In the autumn update to the Project Gigabit Delivery Plan which you can find here, are reports on progress with Phase 1 roll-outs and Phase 2 procurements. It also includes the sequencing and dates of English Phase 3 rural projects, covering around 500,000 premises in Essex, Lincolnshire, Devon & Somerset, Herefordshire & Gloucestershire, Dorset, Cheshire, and North Yorkshire.
There are details of an additional £8 million to deliver full-fibre to 3,600 premises in Scotland, as part of the Scottish Government’s R100 project, and c.£22.6m to connect rural and remote parts of Northern Ireland.
Gigabit broadband will bring much faster and more reliable connectivity to rural and hard-to-reach communities. This will make them more attractive places for people to settle, raise families and start and grow businesses, improve education and healthcare services and increase accessibility.
This is how we level up - ensuring rural communities have the same chances and opportunities as our urban towns and cities. That’s why this is at the top of the Government’s agenda, and as Secretary of State, The Conservagtive government is fully committed to making Project Gigabit a UK success story.
The government is confident that with the support of the £5bn committed, the UK is on track for 85% gigabit coverage by 2025 and that we can push further towards 100% coverage.
The previous Project Gigabit Summer Update showed there are more commercial plans to deliver gigabit capability in the UK than ever before. In the Project Gigabit Autumn Update are reports on a significant further expansion in commercial plans, including more telecoms providers focused on building in under-served rural areas. Greater commercial investment is positive for the UK and shows strong market confidence in customer demand for gigabit infrastructure.
The government has now received information from 38 telecoms providers in surveys of 18 of the 38 Regional Supplier areas, and is announcing timing for more of the remaining areas. There have been adjustments to some of our procurement plans, which underscores the need to react and adapt our approach to give room for commercial investment, while targeting interventions to the hardest-to-reach homes and businesses.
The extent of commercial investment plans, considerably in excess of any previous plans we have seen, has led to more rounds of discussions with the market and as a result, a small amount of delay.
Updated details for particular areas such as Cumbria are as follows:
- In Cumbria, the first of the Regional Supplier procurements, procurement has been launched for gigabit broadband to 62,000 premises, with investment of up to £109m.
- In Cambridgeshire, it is now expected to procure 40,000 to 50,000 premises.
- In east Essex, the first area targeted for a Local Supplier procurement, commercial plans were so extensive that there were only approximately 800 premises where intervention could be justified and so targeted Gigabit Vouchers will be used as they will provide a better solution than procurement in this case.
- In Dorset, the government has identified a potential Local Supplier procurement which combines two potential Local Supplier areas and will complement significant commercial plans for telecoms providers active in the area.
- The government plans to combine Regional Supplier procurement areas in Northumberland and Durham, and have found two areas where Local Supplier procurements will offer bidding opportunities to more telecoms providers.
The government continues to learn and adapt its processes and has praised the work telecoms providers and local partners have contributed to help improve government telecoms investment plans.
The Autumn Update includes more information on how we plan procurements, expanding on the Public Review classifications we reported in the Summer. Further information is also provided on the approach to Gigabit Vouchers. Where significant voucher projects are underway, the government plans to keep momentum by deferring other interventions, even in areas where procurement is also taking place such as Cumbria, Northumberland and Durham.
The government has also published more information on the evaluation of the benefits of the Superfast Broadband programme, including the latest independent assessment calculating that between £3.60 and £5.10 of benefit is generated per £1 of net public sector spending on Telcommunications.
Update on commercial investment in UK gigabit infrastructure
The government reported in the summer on Openreach’s updated target of 25 million full-fibre premises, including an extra 3 million premises in predominantly rural areas. Virgin Media O2’s ongoing upgrades to bring their existing hybrid fibre/copper network infrastructure up to gigabit speeds has helped the UK reach the halfway point, and it now intends to ultimately replace this existing network with full-fibre, on top of its ambition to grow it out by a further 7-10 million premises.
In the last few weeks, CityFibre has raised £1.125bn to fund the next phase of its network rollout to over 8 million premises and to participate in Project Gigabit; and Axione Fibre has been established with an initial £300m to target both suburban and rural areas. These are on top of funding announcements by Broadway Partners (£145m), Zzoomm (£100m), Grain (£75m), Trooli (£67m) and internet service provider TalkTalk investing in Freedom Fibre.
Other suppliers have provided updates on the scale of their networks and their plans: Gigaclear with 175,000 premises passed, Netomnia with 50,000, Fibrus with 58,000, and Full Fibre with 15,000 per month. Beacons Telecom, Borderlink, County Broadband, YouFibre, Upp, Voneus, VX Fibre, Wildanet, and 1310 have all announced progress in building networks or connecting customers. Connexin, Ecom, G.Network, Glide, InterneTY, Jurassic Fibre, Kloud9, SWS and WeFibre all provided updates on their plans during the period. AJ Technology, Alnwick, Hampstead Fibre, Ociusnet, Rymote, Scotnet and Simwood have all applied to Ofcom for Code Powers to help them progress their own full-fibre plans.
Progress has also been made with community projects, such as StrathspeyNow delivering gigabit connectivity over fixed wireless in rural areas beyond Grantown-on-Spey.
This expansion is creating hundreds of new jobs, including 400 at Virgin Media O2 and 100 at Wessex Internet. Ogi has recently grown to 100 employees and expects this to reach 140.
Collectively, these announcements demonstrate the market’s commitment to deliver gigabit-capable networks to at least 80% of UK premises by December 2025. With the £5bn Project Gigabit targeted at the remaining uncommercial areas, we are increasingly confident in delivering gigabit coverage for 85% of UK premises by 2025 and pushing further towards 100% nationwide coverage.
(In the interests of full disclosure and transparency I should make clear that I am an Openreach employee and a BT shareholder. I am not writing in that capacity. Everything in this post comes from published government sources and nothing directly from BT or Openreach.)