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What is superfast broadband?

There is no single definition of superfast broadband. The UK Government defines superfast broadband as download speeds of 24 megabits per second (Mbps), while Ofcom (the UK telecoms regulator), the EU define it as 30 Mbps. The Scottish and Welsh Government also use 30 Mbps.

At 24 Mbps it would take approx. 6 minutes to download a standard definition film (1 gigabyte (GB)).

Superfast broadband programme

The roll-out of superfast broadband in the UK has primarily been led by private companies such as Openreach and Virgin Media. The Government’s policy is to support the roll-out of superfast broadband to those areas not reached by private investment. To do so, the UK Government has been providing funding to local bodies in England and the devolved Administrations through the superfast broadband programme. The programme is managed by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), part of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Under the superfast broadband programme local bodies and the devolved Administrations  draw up broadband delivery plans and procure contracts with broadband providers to build infrastructure to target areas in their regions. Information about and links to local broadband projects across the UK is provided in BDUK’s table of local broadband projects, which is updated quarterly.

Ofcom reported that as of February 2018, 95% of UK premises had access to superfast broadband based on the Government’s definition (24 Mbps). The Government expects that coverage will extend to 97% by 2020.

The superfast broadband programme has largely delivered connections using Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology, which is a part-fibre, part-copper technology. FTTC is cheaper and faster to deliver than full-fibre broadband but has been described as less “future proof”. The Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee concluded in 2016 that the decision to use FTTC was, “on balance”, the right decision but has had the result of tackling easier to reach premises first, leaving uncertainty about when the remaining premises will be served.

Superfast broadband in the devolved Administrations

The UK Government has primary responsibility for broadband policy and coverage targets because telecommunications is a reserved power. However, the practical delivery of superfast broadband roll-out projects is led by local bodies in England (predominantly local authorities) and the devolved Administrations. This means that the devolved Administrations can set their own superfast broadband targets.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments are both conducting tender processes for new contracts to deliver superfast broadband infrastructure to premises not yet reached by the superfast broadband roll-out. The Scottish Government has a target to deliver superfast broadband (30Mbps) to 100% of Scottish premises coverage by 2021, under its Reaching 100% Programme (R100).

Support for those without superfast broadband

Voucher schemes

The UK-wide Better Broadband Scheme provides vouchers to provide an affordable broadband connection to homes and businesses that are unable to access a broadband service with a download speed of 2 Mbps. An affordable connection is defined as one that costs the customer no more than £400 in the first year. The Scheme is set to run until December 2019.

Government funded vouchers are available to support the cost of installing gigabit capable connections in rural areas and to small and medium sized businesses UK-wide. Information about the schemes and eligibility requirements is provided on the DCMS gigabit broadband voucher scheme website. See the Library briefing paper: Full-fibre networks in the UK (CBP8392) for more information.

The Welsh Government also has its own separate voucher schemes.

Universal Service Obligation (USO) – from 2020

The UK-wide USO provides a legal right to request a broadband connection of 10 Mbps download speed and 1 Mbps upload speed, up to a reasonable cost threshold (£3400). Ofcom is working on the practical delivery of the USO; it is expected to be available in 2020. See the Library briefing paper: A Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband.

Community-led schemes

Communities without superfast broadband can also consider developing their own community-led scheme to bring fibre broadband to their area. The UK Government does not provide specific funding for these schemes but has published guidance and case studies that provide more information.

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