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As of January 2022, 64% of UK premises had a gigabit-broadband connection available, according to the telecoms regulator, Ofcom. That’s a connection that can support download speeds of at least 1 gigabit per second.

The Government’s target is for gigabit-broadband to be available nationwide by 2030, with 85% of premises expected to be met by 2025. Nationwide coverage means “at least 99%”.

Around 20% of premises, mostly in rural areas, are estimated to require public funding to deliver gigabit-broadband. This briefing looks at current and past government funding programmes for gigabit-broadband roll-out. These programmes follow the Government’s previous publicly-funded superfast broadband programme.

Our briefing, Gigabit-broadband: Government targets and policy, covers the Government’s wider strategy on gigabit-broadband roll-out, including measures to encourage investment.

How much public funding has been allocated?

The Government has promised £5 billion to subsidise the roll-out of gigabit-broadband to the ‘hardest to reach’ premises in the country that will not be reached by private investment (20% of the UK). This is around 5 million premises mostly in rural areas.

The funding programme is called ‘Project Gigabit’ and follows programmes that aimed to increase demand for gigabit-broadband and provided vouchers to help connect rural premises.

The Chancellor allocated £1.2 billion of the £5 billion Project Gigabit funding in the 2020 Spending Review, for the years 2020–2025. The remaining £3.8 billion is reserved for future years.

Why have the Government’s targets been delayed?

The Government aims for nationwide gigabit-broadband to be available by 2030, with 85% of premises reached by 2025. The 15% of premises reached between 2025 and 2030 will likely be met by Project Gigabit.

This is a delay from the Government’s manifesto commitment, which aimed for gigabit-broadband nationwide by 2025. The delay to 2030 is due to the speed at which commercial providers can deliver to hard to reach areas under Project Gigabit alongside their commercial roll-out.

The deferred targets have been described as a “kick in the teeth” for rural communities. The Public Accounts Committee in January 2022 said it was “not convinced” that the Government was on track to meet its targets. The Committee raised concerns that the Government was relying too heavily on the progress of roll-out by commercial providers rather than prioritising areas that were hardest to reach. In response, the Government committed to providing greater detail and transparency on its progress towards the 85% target.

‘Project Gigabit’

Project Gigabit is delivered by Building Digital UK (BDUK), an executive agency within the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).

It has three main parts:

  • A series of procurements subsidising the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband in specific areas. Broadband suppliers would bid for contracts to build in each area.
  • A voucher scheme for residents and businesses in eligible rural areas to subsidise the cost of a new gigabit-capable connection. A postcode-checker on the Government’s voucher scheme website allows users to see if they are in an eligible area.
  • Funding to connect public sector buildings in rural areas (called ‘hubs’).

When and where will funding be allocated?

Project Gigabit’s procurements will take place in phases. Broadly, the first areas prioritised for procurement are those where DCMS is most confident there will not be gigabit-broadband built by commercial suppliers in the next three years, and there is known interest from commercial providers to bid for public contracts. Within that, BDUK states that premises with the lowest available broadband speeds will be prioritised where possible.

There will be a public review on each area before a contract is put forward for procurement. The public review sets out the initial detail on which areas within each regional contract will be covered by the project, following the Government’s consultation with industry. The first regional supplier procurement launched in Cumbria in October 2021, with the contract expected to be awarded in September 2022.

BDUK is planning for Project Gigabit to reach at least 1.56 million premises by 2025. That equates to 5% of UK premises. The agency says that 600,000 have already been reached, primarily by reconfiguring existing contracts awarded during the rollout of superfast broadband. It anticipates transitional years of slower growth as these contracts expire and new ones go out for procurement.

The Government publishes quarterly progress updates that provide indicative timetables for regional areas. The latest update was published in May 2022: Spring update. The next update is due in summer 2022.

Project Gigabit and the devolved administrations

Project Gigabit is a UK-wide programme because telecommunications is a reserved matter.

The devolved administrations also have their own broadband roll-out projects ongoing that are building gigabit-capable connections. These are: the R100 programme in Scotland, Superfast Cymru in Wales and Project Stratum in Northern Ireland.

These projects were arranged under the UK Government’s previous funding programme, the superfast broadband programme, which gave a formal role to the devolved administrations (and local authorities in England) to organise broadband roll-out in their regions.

The Government says it is working collaboratively with the devolved administrations on how funding can extend the existing broadband programmes in each nation in the first instance. For example, additional funding was provided to the R100 programme in Scotland to ensure all properties were connected with full-fibre connections.

New procurements may follow in the devolved nations to cover premises not reached by these contracts. Initial reviews have launched in Wales and Scotland to identify areas for new procurements.

Further resources

Our broadband data dashboard allows users to explore where gigabit-broadband is available by constituency and small areas.


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