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The Government’s target is for at least 85% of UK premises to have access to gigabit-broadband by 2025. It said it will “seek to accelerate roll-out further to get as close to 100% as possible.”

This paper covers the Government’s targets and policy on gigabit-broadband roll-out by industry.

What is gigabit-capable broadband?

Gigabit-capable broadband means download speeds of at least 1 gigabit-per-second (1 Gbps or 1000 megabits per second, Mbps). A 1 Gbps download speed would allow a high-definition film to be downloaded in under 1 minute.

Gigabit-capable broadband can be delivered by a range of technologies, including: full-fibre connections, high-speed cable broadband and potentially 5G networks.

Does the UK need an infrastructure upgrade?

95% of UK premises have a superfast broadband connection available (download speed of at least 30 Mbps), provided mostly by part-fibre, part-copper networks.

Although superfast broadband is sufficient for most household needs, the demand for services that use a lot of data, such as online video streaming, is increasing. The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the need for widely available and reliable digital connectivity. Around 1.5 million premises do not have a superfast broadband connection available.

Where is gigabit- broadband available currently?

In September 2020, 27% of UK premises had a gigabit-broadband connection available, according to telecoms regulator, Ofcom. However, only 1.4% of postcodes were receiving gigabit speeds.

The Library’s broadband data dashboard allows users to explore where gigabit-broadband is available by constituency.

The Government has forecast that gigabit-broadband will be available to 60% of the UK by the end of 2021.

The Government’s target has reduced

The Government’s 85% target, announced in November 2020, is a reduction from its original aim to deliver nationwide gigabit broadband coverage by 2025.

The Government told the Commons Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee that it expects the new target to be met by the telecoms industry delivering 80% coverage by 2025. It said the reduced target reflected how quickly it expected industry could build in areas requiring public funding alongside their commercial roll-out.

The reduced target has been described as a “blow to rural communities”. The Public Accounts Committee raised concerns that rural areas could be ”locked out of gigabit broadband for years to come”.

How will gigabit-broadband be rolled out?

The Government’s policy is that gigabit-broadband infrastructure will be mostly built using private investment. Private companies decide when and where to build infrastructure based on commercial factors.

The Government and Ofcom have committed to policy and regulatory reforms to lower the cost of building infrastructure and to promote a competitive market.

£5 billion in public funding has been pledged to deliver gigabit-broadband to properties not reached by the commercial market (around 20% of the UK). These properties are mostly in rural areas. Funding plans are covered in the Library briefing, Gigabit-broadband in the UK: public funding.

Policy reforms required to meet the target

Telecoms industry stakeholders say that urgent policy reform is still required to meet the 85% target.

The Government has been working on reforms including to make it easier to access land to install infrastructure and to ensure that new homes are built with gigabit-broadband installed. Industry stakeholders are calling further tax relief on new gigabit investments and for the Government to address skilled labour shortages that could delay roll-out.

The Commons Public Accounts and DCMS Committees both said in December 2020 that the Government’s progress on these reforms had been slow. The DCMS Committee said the Government risked missing the new target in the face of “considerable challenges” to infrastructure roll-out.

Is telecommunications a reserved power?

The UK Government has primary responsibility for broadband policy and coverage targets because telecommunications is a reserved power.

However, the delivery of broadband infrastructure projects often involves local authorities or devolved responsibilities, such as building regulations, planning and business rates.

The devolved administrations and local authorities in England had a formal role in delivering broadband infrastructure in their regions under the Government’s previous public funding programme for broadband, the superfast broadband programme.

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