Openreach now expects to extend its full-fibre network to 6.2 million premises in villages and market towns by December 2026, nearly double its previous target of 3.2 million rural addresses.
Last month, the BT Group announced a redoubling of Openreach’s FTTP broadband rollout, upping the target from 20 million to 25 million premises, 80% of the UK, and increasing its investment from £12 billion to £15 billion.
Currently, Openreach’s gigabit-capable FTTP reaches 4.8 million premises, with around 43,000 households being connected and around 17,000 signing up to the service per week.
That build rate will increase to 75,000 new connections per week, or four million per year, as the 2026 deadline looms.
Many of these connections will be in rural and semi-rural villages and market towns, including places the government only expected to connect with public investment and which may have inadequate broadband.
Openreach originally planned to reach 3.2 million premises designated by Ofcom as part of the operator’s Area 3 commitment. Area 3 locations are the 30% of premises—9.5 million total—that are the least commercially viable for competitive broadband and where Openreach will likely be the only infrastructure provider.
The government has anticipated spending £5 billion to bring gigabit-capable connections to the hardest to reach 20% of premises. However, the number of connections requiring public subsidy may fall, as Openreach adds three million premises to its rural target.
Openreach will now bring full fibre to a total of 6.2 million addresses, the vast majority in Area 3. It’s also encouraging other companies to “step forward” to provide broadband infrastructure in rural areas.
Clive Selley, chief executive of Openreach, said: “Building a new broadband network across the UK is a massive challenge and some parts of the country will inevitably require public funding. But our expanded build plan means taxpayer subsidies can be limited to only the hardest to connect homes and businesses—and we hope to see other companies step forward to build in the most rural areas too.”
Digital secretary Oliver Dowden welcomed Openreach’s “ambitious plans.”
“We are levelling up the UK and taking hard-to-reach homes and businesses off buffer mode with a £5 billion investment in lightning-fast, next generation broadband,” he said. “I welcome Openreach’s ambitious plans to connect millions more rural homes to gigabit speeds. It means our funding can go even further to help those in need and will create thousands more high-skilled engineering jobs as we build back better from the pandemic.”
To staff the rollout, Openreach is extending its recruitment drive, hiring for 1,000 new roles, in addition to the 2,500 jobs announced in December 2020. Most of these roles will be for fibre engineers.
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