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What is gigabit broadband?

Gigabit-capable broadband is the next-generation of high-speed broadband technology. ‘Gigabit-capable’ means any technology that can deliver speeds of at least 1000 megabits per second (Mbps), or 1 gigabit per second (Gbps).

What is full fibre?

‘Full fibre’ is one of the technologies used to deliver gigabit-capable broadband. A fibre-optic cable runs from the exchange to the premises. It is therefore also known as ‘fibre-to-the-premises’ (FTTP). It is an upgrade over ‘fibre-to-the-cabinet’ (FTTC), where fibre optic cables go as far as street cabinets and copper cables connect individual premises.

Telecoms providers sometimes advertise FTTC as ‘fibre’, but it is not a gigabit-capable technology. FTTC can provide download speeds up to around 80 Mbps.

Where is gigabit broadband available?

The Library’s broadband data dashboard allows users to explore broadband availability by constituency. The dashboard uses data supplied by telecoms regulator Ofcom for its annual Connected Nations reports.

Unofficial data providing monthly coverage updates is available from ThinkBroadband.

Coverage is not the same as take-up. Customers need to purchase a gigabit broadband package to benefit from the rollout.

What are the government’s targets for gigabit broadband?

The government’s target is for gigabit broadband to be available to 85% of UK premises by 2025, and 99%+ by 2030. It expects commercial investment by broadband companies – called network operators – to reach 80% of premises by 2025. The remaining 20% will require public subsidies.

Is public funding available for gigabit broadband?

The government has committed £5 billion to support the rollout of gigabit broadband to areas that would not be commercially viable. The funding programme, known as Project Gigabit, has three main parts:

  • Contracts awarded to network operators subsidising the deployment of networks in defined areas.
  • A voucher scheme that provides £4,500 per premises towards the cost of building gigabit networks to rural areas not covered by Project Gigabit contracts. Devolved and local authorities may offer vouchers that can be used to top-up central government funding.
  • Funding to connect public sector buildings such as schools.

There is no public funding to help individuals pay for a gigabit broadband subscription.

What role do the devolved administrations play?

Telecommunications is a reserved power. The UK government sets overall targets and policy. Project Gigabit is UK-wide and managed centrally by Building Digital UK (BDUK, an executive agency within the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology).

However, the delivery of broadband projects involves areas of devolved responsibility, such as planning. The devolved administrations also have their own programmes deploying gigabit networks alongside Project Gigabit: R100 in Scotland, Superfast Cymru in Wales, and Project Stratum in Northern Ireland.

When will my constituency benefit from Project Gigabit?

BDUK publishes quarterly Project Gigabit progress updates. The updates show the projected timetable for each procurement area (or ‘Lot’).

Before putting the contract for a Lot out for procurement, BDUK conducts consultations to identify which premises should be eligible for funding. It publishes a map and list of postcodes alongside the ‘Public Review’ (PR) consultation stage. Postcodes classified as ‘white’ may be eligible for public funding. These are areas that are not likely to have access to gigabit-capable broadband within the next three years.

A collection of PRs is available at Project Gigabit programme: public reviews.

Once the contract has been awarded, deployment timescales may be available from the relevant operator. A collection of contracts is available at Project Gigabit: contracts.

Northern Ireland’s rollout is being delivered by telecoms company Fibrus, which has published a map showing the timetable for its network deployment.

What other options are available to constituents?

Wireless broadband

The government expects that there will be a small number of remote premises that will be too expensive to reach even with public subsidies. The government has promised measures to help these premises get faster internet using wireless technologies instead.

Community-led schemes

Groups of residents may be able to set up schemes to bring fibre broadband to their area. Guidance on community-led schemes is available from DSIT. Openreach has set up a Fibre Community Partnership scheme to help guide applicants through the process.

No government funding is available specifically for community projects, although broadband vouchers can be put towards the cost.

Do operators have responsibilities when conducting street works?

Deploying broadband networks involves laying cables, often underneath public roads. Telecoms network operators have a general right to conduct street works.

Most local highway authorities have introduced permit schemes to help them manage and coordinate street works in their area. Permit schemes require operators to book time on the street before they carry out work.

Highway authorities are also responsible for inspecting street works and enforcing standards, including standards for reinstating streets.

Why are so many operators conducting street works?

For the gigabit rollout, government policy is to encourage competition in the broadband infrastructure market. There are now numerous alternative network operators (altnets) building networks independently of the two largest operators, Openreach (part of BT) and Virgin Media.

Could operators not share networks instead of building separate ones?

Operators building new networks make money by selling access to their network, either directly to consumers or to internet service providers (ISPs) who in turn sell broadband packages to consumers. It would therefore not make sense for them to ‘share’ their network with other network operators.

Network operators may share physical infrastructure such as underground ducts. Openreach is legally required to allow altnets to access its ducts. This reduces the need for disruptive street works. However, it will not be a viable option in all circumstances.

Do operators need permission to put up telegraph poles?

Telegraph poles are covered by permitted development rights, meaning that operators do not need planning permission to erect them. Operators only need to provide the local planning authority with 28 days’ notice.

The government has published a voluntary Cabinet Siting and Pole Siting Code of Practice (November 2016). It recommends that operators should inform residents when they intend to install new poles, although this is not a legal requirement.

Operators must obtain the landowners permission to erect poles on private land. However, operators have a right to run cables between poles, including where the cable passes over private land.

What will happen to landlines?

The traditional landline network, which utilises the same copper cables as FTTC broadband, will be switched off by December 2025. Calls will be made over the internet instead.

This is related to the gigabit rollout because it would be expensive to maintain the copper network just for voice calls. However, they are different processes. Constituents will not lose their traditional landline as soon as full fibre is available in their area. Conversely, they will not be able to keep their traditional landline beyond 2025 by not taking up full fibre broadband.

Further information

More detail on the issues covered here can be found in the following Library briefings:

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