Government’s ‘Project Gigabit’ Reveals First Rural Fibre Locations

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First stage of government plan revealed to get ultra-fast broadband to some of the most remote and rural locations in the UK

The British government has announced the first stage of its £5 billion plan to get ultra-fast broadband, or fibre to the premise (FTTP), to remote British homes and locations.

The government announcement comes hours after Ofcom set out its regulatory plan on the pricing and other conditions needed for the former UK incumbent BT to commit £12 billion for the FTTP rollout.

That agreement states how Ofcom will regulate telecom fixed access services for the 5 years in the UK, and gives enough certainty for BT (and others) to ramp up their respective FTTP deployments.

FTTP pledges

BT immediately confirmed it will “get on and build like fury” to deliver fibre to the premise (FTTP) to 20 million homes or businesses by the mid- to late-2020s.

It should be remembered that the British government in December 2019 had pledged to roll out gigabit-speed broadband to every home in Britain by 2025.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been a vocal and outspoken supporter of the need for the UK to accelerate the deployment of ultrafast fibre broadband across the UK. He has previously called for FTTP to be made available to “every home in the land” within five years.

Prior to that, the government had originally set a goal of 2033 for the rollout of fibre to all premises, a target the Prime Minister had previously called “laughably unambitious” – before the government set the 2025 deadline.

Openreach was onboard, and in July 2020 it detailed its plans to roll out next generation fibre connections capable of 1Gbps in the hardest to reach areas in the United Kingdom.

Commercial telecoms FTTP (fibre to the premise) is expected to reach 70 percent of UK homes without government help.

Project Gigabit

The government pledged £5 billion to ensure gigabit-speed broadband was made available to every home in Britain by 2025.

But the Coronavirus toll of the public finances has been severe, and in November last year the government reduced its FTTP target down to 85 percent coverage. Its £5 billion budget remains intact, but only £1.2bn of that will be made available up to 2024.

The government said that more than one million hard to reach homes and businesses will have gigabit broadband built to them in the first phase of its £5 billion ‘Project Gigabit.’

The first areas to benefit from 1Gbps broadband will be up to 510,000 homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley.

Contracts for these first areas will go to tender in the spring, it said, with spades in the ground in the first half of 2022.

In June the government expects to announce the next procurements to connect up to 640,000 premises in Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Rocket boost

The government has also pledged an extra £210m worth of vouchers released to help those with slow speeds, as well as £110m to connect up to 7,000 rural GP surgeries, libraries and schools.

And the government is calling on the industry to provide evidence on using satellite and 5G technology to connect very hard to reach areas.

This is because it recognises that reaching the final 1 percent of homes in very remote areas could be prohibitively expensive.

“Project Gigabit is the rocket boost that we need to get lightning-fast broadband to all areas of the country,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “This broadband revolution will fire up people’s businesses and homes, and the vital public services that we all rely on, so we can continue to level up and build back better from this pandemic.”

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“Project Gigabit is our national mission to plug in and power up every corner of the UK and get us gigafit for the future,” added Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“We have already made rapid progress, with almost 40 percent of homes and businesses now able to access next-generation gigabit speeds, compared to just 9 percent in 2019,” said Dowden. “Now we are setting out our plans to invest £5 billion in remote and rural areas so that no one is left behind by the connectivity revolution.”

Openreach response

Openreach welcomed the government’s help to connect remote parts of the UK, and called it a ‘massive opportunity’.

“We’re already building Full Fibre broadband to 20 million homes and businesses under our own steam – including in rural and hard-to-reach areas – and we welcome this as a vital next step to connect the toughest parts of the UK,” said Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach.

“We’ll be considering these proposals for the final 20 percent with interest and we’re keen to support the Government,” Selley added. “This is a massive opportunity to level-up the country and boost the bounce-back after the pandemic, so it’s important the process moves quickly and that all operators do their bit.”

The CEOs of CityFibre and Gigaclear also welcomed the news.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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