Public investment has connected nearly half a million premises to gigabit-capable broadband since the summer of 2018 and now the government is focusing on promoting uptake of the service.
The government has spent £1 billion on gigabit connectivity over the last few years, primarily aimed at galvanising and supporting investment by commercial operators and at connecting public sector sites.
That includes £400 million invested in companies installing full-fibre and ultrafast broadband through the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF) and £279 million to support the installation of networks in local areas through the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) scheme. An additional £200 million has been spent on the Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) programme, targeting the 20% of UK premises which would be unlikely to be connected by commercial ventures.
Both the LFFN and RGC programmes involve gigabit voucher schemes, offering households and businesses grants to get a faster broadband service installed. For example, the RGC offers small rural businesses £3,500 grants and rural homes £1,500 to upgrade their broadband connections. In some areas, these vouchers can be matched by investment from local authorities.
A total of 44,792 vouchers, worth more than £90 million, have been distributed through the two programmes. The vouchers have subsided 29,142 live connections, with the remainder still under construction. The RGC voucher scheme, which can be accessed here, is due to close in March 2021.
Additionally, £200 million from Building Digital UK’s Superfast Broadband Programme has been reallocated to delivering gigabit-capable, mostly full-fibre connections.
In total, these programmes have delivered gigabit connections to 493,600 premises across the country, the government said.
Matt Warman, UK Digital Infrastructure Minister, said: “It’s fantastic to see so many people getting access to gigabit-speed broadband. This is thanks to our investment alongside the sterling work of industry.
“Today I urge people in rural communities in the digital slow lane to apply for the immediate financial help available so they can seize the benefits of better connectivity – from making work easier to catching up with family and friends.”
The government also notes than only 30% of premises connected to gigabit-capable broadband have actually taken up the service, a figure it wants to improve. They’re launching the Gigabit Take-Up Advisory Group (GigaTAG) to “lead a strategic review into boosting take-up as gigabit connections among consumers and businesses become more widely available.”
GigaTAG will be led by consumer magazine Which?, along with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Ofcom and industry representatives.
Warman said: “I am also launching a new drive with business and consumer champions to make more people aware of just how beneficial better, faster broadband can be.”
Rocio Concha, Director of Advocacy at Which?, said: “By bringing together industry, the regulator, government as well as groups representing both consumers and businesses, this new advisory group will be able to provide recommendations on the best way to ensure everyone can take advantage of faster, more reliable internet connections as they are rolled out.”
Currently, around 26% of UK homes and businesses can access gigabit broadband—services delivering speeds greater than 1Gbps or 1000Mbps. That translates into 7.5 million premises, up from just 1.4 million two years ago.
Much of the recent progress has been achieved by Virgin Media, which is rolling out a gigabit upgrade of its cable broadband service. It has connected two million households so far and aims to reach all 15 million on its network by sometime next year. Meanwhile, full-fibre coverage stands at an estimated 15%.
The government has also committed to investing £5 billion to bring gigabit connectivity to every UK home by the end of 2025, although there are suggestions that it has already rowed back from that target.
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