Part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda is for gigabit-capable broadband (defined as a connection that supports download speeds of 1000 Megabits per second) to be available to at least 85% of UK premises by 2025 and nationwide by 2030.
Constituents may wish to know when the gigabit broadband roll–out will reach them. This article explains how to find and understand information regarding: broadband coverage in a constituency, the status of the roll–out of gigabit broadband, and other options available to constituents.
What is broadband coverage like in the UK?
The Commons Library’s broadband data dashboard allows users to explore broadband availability in each UK constituency. The dashboard is built using data supplied by Ofcom for its Connected Nations reports. Ofcom publishes its data annually with smaller interim updates twice per year. The Library’s dashboard will be updated as soon as possible following new data releases.
Unofficial data providing monthly coverage updates is available from ThinkBroadband.
How is gigabit broadband being rolled out?
The roll–out of gigabit broadband is largely being driven by private investment on a commercial basis. The UK Government has committed £5bn to help extend gigabit broadband coverage to areas that are not likely to be reached by the market. In these areas, public funding will top up industry investment to make builds commercially viable.
The public funding programme is called Project Gigabit. It is delivered by Building Digital UK (BDUK), an executive agency within DCMS.
BDUK anticipates that approximately 80% of UK premises will be reached commercially by the end of 2025. It intends for Project Gigabit funding to enable an additional 5% of premises to be reached by that date, and will then work with industry to get to as close to 100% as soon as possible thereafter.
BDUK reports on progress against this trajectory in quarterly project updates. The latest update was published in Spring 2022.
Where are commercial providers building networks?
Private companies do not generally make detailed roll–out plans available but some, including Openreach and City Fibre, have done so.
BDUK gathers information about the industry’s roll–out plans as part of the procurement process for Project Gigabit. Detailed information is not published for commercial reasons, but a general indication of areas that are expected to be reached by private investment may be available. There is more on this in the next section.
Which areas will benefit from Project Gigabit?
The main part of Project Gigabit is a series of public procurements covering areas that would not otherwise receive private investment. Suppliers bid for contracts to build in these areas, called ‘Lots.’ A table showing the current stage and projected timetable for each Lot is available on BDUK’s subsidy advice webpage (see ‘Project Gigabit – Table of Ongoing BDUK Subsidy Procurements’).
The availability of information on whether specific localities will be covered by Project Gigabit depends on which stage of the procurement process the relevant Lot has reached.
Before putting the contracts for a Lot out for procurement, BDUK will conduct a series of consultations to identify which premises should be eligible for funding. The first consultation is called an Open Market Review. The OMR asks suppliers to provide information about their planned broadband infrastructure investment over the next three years. BDUK uses this information to identify premises in the Lot that are not likely to be reached commercially. Its proposals then go out for a second consultation, called a Public Review (PR).
A collection of PRs is available on gov.uk: Project Gigabit programme: public reviews.
It is at the PR stage that detail about which areas may receive public funding will first be published. The PR will include a draft map of the area and a list of postcodes. Each postcode area will be assigned a colour based on BDUK’s assessment of the commercial gigabit roll–out:
- Black indicates areas where gigabit broadband is currently available from multiple suppliers, or where multiple suppliers expect to deploy gigabit broadband infrastructure in the next three years.
- Grey indicates areas where gigabit broadband is currently available from one supplier, or where one supplier expects to deploy gigabit broadband infrastructure in the next three years.
- Blue (or ‘under review’ in the postcode list) indicates areas where BDUK is either unsure about current gigabit coverage or believes there are risks that build plans will not be delivered.
- White indicates areas that are not likely to have access to gigabit-capable broadband within the next three years.
Only areas classified as ‘white’ will be eligible for public funding. Blue areas will be monitored and become eligible if commercial plans fall away.
Postcode areas are used for ‘presentational’ purposes only. Project Gigabit will subsidise the rollout to individual premises rather than postcodes. If a single premises within a postcode area has been classified as ‘white’, then that area will be white on the map even if the majority will be reached commercially.
A final map of eligible areas will be published once BDUK has analysed the responses to the PR consultation. This will inform the list of premises included in the contracts that go out for procurement.
What other options are available to constituents outside commercial roll–out areas?
Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme
Constituents in rural locations whose premises will not be reached by the commercial roll–out but do not want to wait for Project Gigabit procurements may be able to obtain funding through the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS). The scheme’s website has a postcode checker which allows users to check whether they are in an eligible area. The vouchers are worth £1,500 per residential premises and £3,500 per SME.
The postcode checker will show a list of registered broadband infrastructure suppliers who are active in the area. It is the supplier, rather than the residents themselves, who apply for vouchers. Residents should approach suppliers to discuss whether coverage can be extended to their premises. Residents will be expected to make up the difference between the amount raised through vouchers and the total cost of the project.
Devolved administrations and local authorities may have their own voucher schemes that can be used to top-up the funding provided by the UK government. Suppliers would also apply for these.
Communities that will not be reached commercially may consider setting up a community-led partnership to bring fibre broadband to their area. No government funding is available specifically for community-led schemes, although broadband vouchers can be pooled and put towards the cost.
There are a number of possible models for local broadband projects, from buying into an existing roll–out to developing a bespoke solution. DCMS has identified six models that have successfully delivered broadband projects across the country in its Introduction to community-led schemes (July 2019). Short case studies provide examples of each model and may give constituents an idea of the costs and timescales involved.
DCMS has produced detailed guidance for those considering a community-led scheme, including legal structures for the community group, technology options, and funding methods.
In Northern Ireland, the public element of the gigabit broadband roll-out is largely funded under a pre-existing scheme, Project Stratum. It is being delivered by telecoms provider Fibrus, which has published a map showing the timetable for its network deployment under the scheme. A full list of postcodes containing eligible premises is available from the DfE’s Project Stratum consultation page.
House of Commons Library briefings on the gigabit broadband roll-out
CBP 8392, Gigabit-broadband in the UK: Government targets and policy, February 2022
CBP 9156, Building broadband and mobile infrastructure, March 2022
CBP 9207, Gigabit-broadband: Funding for rural and hard to reach areas, June 2022