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As of January 2021, 36% of UK premises had a gigabit-broadband connection available, according to 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 at least 85% of UK premises to have gigabit-broadband available by 2025. This target is expected to be met by private investment covering 80% of premises and 5% covered by public funding. The Government said in August 2021 that it was “increasingly confident” that the 85% target could be exceeded.

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.

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 previous 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.

The Government states that the staged funding reflects what it believes industry will be able to deliver in the hard to reach areas by 2025, alongside their commercial roll-out.

The funding deferral has been described as a “kick in the teeth” for rural communities. The Commons Public Accounts Committee raised concerns in December 2020 that the Government’s delayed funding and targets could leave rural communities waiting for gigabit-broadband “for years to come”.

‘Project Gigabit’

Project Gigabit is delivered by Building Digital UK (BDUK), part of the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).

It has broadly 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 (called ‘hubs’).

When and where will funding be allocated?

The 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.

The Government published an updated timetable in August 2021 setting out estimated dates, number of premises and funding for regional contracts in England. The Government expects the first procurement, in Cumbria, to open in September 2021, with building to start in 2022. The Government has said it will publish updates quarterly.

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.

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 “complement and extend” the existing broadband programmes in each nation. 

Further resources

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

Our briefing, Gigabit-broadband: Government targets and policy discusses the Government’s broadband targets and its policy on supporting industry to roll out gigabit-broadband.


Documents to download

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