Gigabit broadband: First areas to benefit announced

broadband trail through trees graphicImage source, Getty Images

The government has announced the first stages of its plans to get ultra-fast broadband to the remotest of homes in the UK.

Originally it had promised to roll out gigabit-speed broadband to every home in Britain by 2025 but that was reduced to 85% coverage in November.

The budget remains at £5bn - but only £1.2bn of that will be made available up to 2024.

The infrastructure build should start in 2022, the government said.

The first to benefit will be homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley.

The next areas are expected to be Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

A former voucher scheme is also being relaunched to provide more immediate help to those struggling with poor broadband coverage, with up to £210m being made available.

It is expected that commercial deployments of gigabit-capable fibre networks will reach more than 70% of premises by the end of 2025, without government intervention.

The government has said that reaching the final 1% of homes in very remote areas could be prohibitively expensive.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Project Gigabit as "the rocket boost that we need to get lightning-fast broadband to all areas of the country".

The trade organisation techUK has also welcomed the news.

And speaking on the BBC's Today programme, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden said: "We've already made tremendous progress with Project Gigabit - our national mission to get everyone in the country the fastest broadband on the planet.

"We've gone from around 9% coverage in 2019 to 40% now - I'm confident we'll get to 60% by the end of the year.

"The challenge is the last 20%, which can't be delivered commercially - and that's what our plans being outlined today are all about."

He reiterated the watered-down plans to reach "at least 85% of the country by 2025".

"I think we will be able to go faster than that still - and the prime minister and I are meeting with telecoms companies again.

"Basically, we have the money to provide that subsidy, it's about the capacity in the telecoms market to deliver it, because remember these are very remote areas.

Yesterday BT said it would "build like fury" to roll out full-fibre internet connections, following new rules announced by the UK's telecoms regulator Ofcom.

The major broadband networks have been pressing the government to make clear how it planned to allocate the public money it's set aside for Project Gigabit, so they'll be relieved to get some detail.

But it's still clear that the plan to put rural Britain in the broadband fast lane is behind schedule.

At the 2019 election, the manifesto promise was to give every home and business a Gigabit connection by the end of 2025. Last November that target was cut to 85% of premises, with just £1.2bn available in the short term.

Now that money is beginning to flow, but with Openreach's chief executive emphasising the need for speedy decisions, it seems there's not complete confidence that even the more limited target will be hit.

The issue was a key manifesto commitment for the Conservatives at the last general election, when they promised to "bring full fibre and gigabit capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025".

The subject is the topic of frequent questions by Conservative MPs at PMQs - highlighting how much of an important issue it is for them and their constituents.

BBC political correspondent Jonathan Blake says that having promised to 'level up' and increase opportunity for parts of the UK previously left behind and under-funded, this policy is seen as a key part of that agenda for the government.

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