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Project Gigabit

Volume 691: debated on Monday 22 March 2021

Gigabit broadband is being rolled out rapidly, from one in 10 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 the country to have access to gigabit speeds by the end of this year.

Gigabit broadband will accelerate our recovery from covid-19, stimulate high-growth sectors like tech and the creative industries and level up the country, spreading wealth and creating jobs across the UK.

The Government want to deliver nationwide coverage of gigabit-capable broadband as soon as possible and are confident that the private sector will deliver to the most commercial 80% of the country by 2025.

To support this, the Government are implementing an ambitious programme of work to remove barriers to broadband deployment.

The Government want to see regulation that promotes investment and competition in new networks.

We want to drive commercial investment and stimulate suppliers to go further into harder-to-reach areas, by using subsidies to stretch commercial activity even further.

We are targeting a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage by 2025 but will seek to accelerate rollout further to get as close to 100% as possible.

In December 2020, we published a consultation, “Planning for Gigabit Delivery in 2021”, asking for input from local and devolved Government and telecoms providers to help inform how best to use public subsidy to deliver these objectives.

Ninety six organisations across the telecoms industry and local government responded. Their feedback has been instrumental in developing our delivery plan.

Last week we launched Project Gigabit Phase One Delivery Plan outlining our delivery approach that recognises this environment and provides space for commercial investment, but also drives subsidised deployment in harder to reach areas.

More than 1 million hard-to-reach homes and businesses will have next generation gigabit broadband built to them in the first phase of our £5 billion Government infrastructure project.

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

Contracts for these first areas will go to procurement in the spring with delivery in the first half of 2022.

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

The successful gigabit broadband voucher scheme is also being relaunched with up to £210 million to give people and communities in eligible rural areas the opportunity to work with registered suppliers to get gigabit speeds.

In addition, Project Gigabit is making up to £110 million available to connect public sector buildings—such as GP surgeries, libraries and schools—to lay vital infrastructure to these hard-to-reach communities and stimulate further commercial investment.

The UK has some very remote locations that may be too expensive to build a gigabit-capable broadband network to, even with substantial public subsidy.

Thanks to completed or pending Government-funded projects, less than 0.3% of the country or less than 100,000 premises are likely to fall into this category.

For these premises, which are mainly located in remote and isolated locations in Scotland and Wales, and some national parks in England, a call for evidence has been launched to explore the barriers to improving their broadband and how innovative new technologies might help change this.

This could lead to the Government encouraging industry to use new wireless equipment, low-orbit satellites or high-altitude platforms to beam faster connections to far-flung homes and businesses.

The Government have already made investments in wireless, satellite and hybrid-fibre technologies, and continues to explore emerging technologies in this area. Some of these technologies are also gigabit-capable and eligible for Project Gigabit funding today.

Finally, in support of the whole gigabit ambition, the Government have also provided an update from the Barrier Busting Task Force. Set up in 2017, the task force has been identifying and addressing the barriers preventing the fast, efficient and cost-effective deployment of gigabit-capable broadband and improved mobile coverage, including next generation 5G technology.

The Barrier Busting team will be taking forward, with other Government Departments, a number of legislative and non-legislative measures in the coming months. This includes addressing issues around permitted development rights, gigabit broadband for new build homes, and flexible street works permits in England.

We are also consulting on whether further amendments to the Electronic Communications Code are necessary to support deployment. This ambitious programme of works builds on the numerous successes since the team was formed including passing the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act, which recently received Royal Assent.

We welcome last week’s announcement from Ofcom, which provides the telecoms sector with regulatory certainty for the next five years and clear direction for the longer term, encouraging competitive build in the majority of the UK while securing a commitment from Openreach to connect 3.2 million premises in the least competitive 30% of the country.

Ofcom are, in line with the Government’s Statement of Strategic Priorities, regulating to promote competition and giving clear incentives for investment in new gigabit-capable networks. This framework will allow network builders to make a fair return on their investments and provide the long-term certainty they need as they roll out gigabit networks across the country, while continued price controls on superfast anchor products will ensure consumers are protected from excessive prices.

I will place a copy of the Project Gigabit Phase One Delivery Plan, the Very Hard to Reach Call For Evidence and the Barrier Busting Task Force: Next Steps in the Libraries of both Houses.