Government launches new £5bn ‘Project Gigabit’ to help rural businesses

gigabit

More than one million hard to reach homes and businesses will have next generation gigabit broadband built to them in the first phase of a £5bn government infrastructure project.

Up to 510,000 homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley will be the first to benefit as part of ‘Project Gigabit’.

Their available speeds will rocket to more than 1,000 megabits or one gigabit per second. It means families no longer having to battle over bandwidth and will give people in rural areas the freedom to live and work more flexibly. Contracts for these first areas will go to tender in the spring 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.

The government-funded projects will prioritise areas that currently have slow connections and which would otherwise have been left behind in broadband companies’ rollout plans.

Gigabit broadband is being rolled out rapidly – from one in ten households in 2019 to almost two in five today. The UK is on track for one of the fastest rollouts in Europe and for half of all households to have access to gigabit speeds by the end of this year.

Project Gigabit will accelerate our recovery from covid, fire up high growth sectors like tech and the creative industries and level up the country, spreading wealth and creating jobs the breadth of Britain.

The successful Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme is also being relaunched with up to £210 million to give people in eligible rural areas immediate financial help to get gigabit speeds.

On top of this the government is making up to £110 million available to connect public sector buildings – such as GP surgeries, libraries and schools – in the hardest to reach parts of the UK with this revolutionary infrastructure.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Project Gigabit is the rocket boost that we need to get lightning-fast broadband to all areas of the country. 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.”

Industry reaction

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach said: “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. We’ll be considering these proposals for the final 20% with interest and we’re keen to support the Government. 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.”

Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, said: “Project Gigabit is another welcome accelerant that will propel the UK towards a Full Fibre future, supporting economic growth and levelling up opportunity right across the country. As the nation’s largest independent Full Fibre platform, with a build programme underway to a third of the UK market, CityFibre is ready to extend our network even further to reach rural communities. We look forward to participating in this important programme to ensure no one is left behind.”

Gareth Williams, Gigaclear CEO, said: “As a rural operator already delivering multiple ‘Superfast’ BDUK contracts, we are naturally delighted to see the next step in the development of the Outside In programme. We are fully supportive of the Government’s ambition to roll out gigabit capable connectivity across the country as quickly as possible, the importance of which has been further highlighted by the COVID pandemic. We look forward to playing an active role in meeting this ambition and will review these opportunities in detail.”

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