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A Westminster Hall debate on provision of broadband for rural communities has been scheduled for 2.30pm on 13 December 2023. The debate will be opened by Chris Loder MP.

More detail on the issues discussed in this debate pack can be found the Library briefings, Gigabit broadband in the UK: Government targets, policy, and funding (July 2023) and Building broadband and mobile infrastructure (December 2022).

Broadband technologies

Gigabit-capable broadband is the next generation of high-speed broadband. It means any technology that can deliver speeds of at least 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). 1 Gbps is equal to 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps). A download speed of 1 Gbps would allow a high-definition film to be downloaded in under one minute.

Technologies that can deliver gigabit-capable broadband include: 

  • Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), where fibre optic cables run directly to each premises. It is also called ‘full fibre’ to differentiate it from fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) technology, where a fibre cable goes to the street cabinet and copper wires connect individual premises.
  • High-speed cable broadband (DOCSIS 3.1), delivered by Virgin Media O2.
  • Fixed wireless 5G networks (mainly used for remote areas where installing cables is prohibitively expensive).

Benefits of better broadband

The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee report, Digital exclusion, discusses some commonly cited societal benefits of improving digital connectivity, including:

  • enhanced productivity and employment opportunities;
  • new business opportunities;
  • tackling digital exclusion and loneliness;
  • addressing educational inequalities;
  • efficiency benefits for public services through online access.

Broadband access in the UK

Official data on broadband connectivity and speeds in the UK is released by Ofcom in its Connected Nations reports. Reports are published annually, with shorter updates in the Spring and Autumn. You can view the most recent data for constituencies and small areas on our interactive dashboard Constituency data: broadband coverage and speeds.

As of May 2023, 97% of UK premises had access to superfast broadband (download speeds over 30 Mbps). 98% of urban premises had these speeds, compared to 91% of rural premises. 

74% of premises (82% urban/46% rural) had access to gigabit-capable connections (speeds over 1,000 Mbps).

5% of premises (4% urban/8% rural) receive speeds under 10 Mbps. This is level defined as ‘decent’ broadband in the Universal Service Obligation.

Public funding for broadband

The government’s £5 billion funding programme to subsidise the rollout of gigabit broadband is called Project Gigabit. It is delivered by Building Digital UK (BDUK), an executive agency within the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

Project Gigabit has three main parts:

  • A series of procurements subsidising the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband in specific areas. Broadband suppliers bid for contracts to build in each area.
  • Vouchers worth up to £4,500 for residents and businesses in eligible rural areas to subsidise the cost of a new gigabit-capable connection. Apostcode-checkeron the voucher scheme website allows individuals to see if they are in an eligible area.
  • Funding to connect public sector buildings such as schools (called ‘GigaHubs’).

BDUK publishes quarterly progress updates on Project Gigabit.

Telecommunications is a reserved matter and Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all part of Project Gigabit. However, the devolved administrations also have their own broadband roll-out projects ongoing that are delivering gigabit-capable connections. These are: the R100 programme in Scotland, Superfast Cymru in Wales and Project Stratum in Northern Ireland.

The government has said that it will introduce additional measures to help very remote premises (which too expensive to reach by fixed broadband even with public subsidies) to access better broadband. Technology options for these premises include wireless mobile and satellite broadband.

Documents to download

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