rural internet broadband

£5bn gigabit broadband boost for rural areas

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The Government has announced a £5bn plan to upgrade approximately two million rural homes with gigabit broadband.

The plans fall under the government's 'Project Gigabit' fund, which aims to meet pledges originally announced in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to install full-fibre, gigabit-capable broadband in every home and business across the UK by 2025.

This pledge was later downgraded to just 85 per cent of premises in the UK, although MPs have questioned whether even this target is plausible considering the current speed of the rollout.

The government hopes that the infrastructure upgrades in hard-to-reach areas will accelerate the country’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and potentially fire up the tech sector and creative industries.

Up to 1,850,000 additional premises will be connected to the new infrastructure, which should provide speeds that would allow an HD film to be downloaded in less than 30 seconds or even streaming of 8K video.

It brings the current total number of premises in scope for the government-funded coverage to 2.2 million, with more to be announced over the coming months across the whole of the UK.

The government claims the UK is on track for the fastest rollout in Europe this year and that 60 per cent of all households will have access to gigabit speeds by the end of this year. However, the UK still has some catching up to do compared to the rest of Europe: a report in September 2020 showed that the UK had some of the slowest speeds in Western Europe.

Digital secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Project Gigabit is our national mission to level up rural areas by giving them the fastest internet speeds on the market. Millions more rural homes and businesses will now be lifted out of the digital slow lane thanks to our mammoth £5bn investment and one the quickest rollouts in Europe.

“This broadband revolution will create jobs, power up businesses and allow everyone to access vital services at lightning fast speed, helping us build back better from the pandemic.”

Almost half a million (480,000) premises in Shropshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight will be among the first to benefit, followed by counties including Derbyshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Surrey, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Staffordshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

It was also confirmed today that the Scottish and Welsh governments, as well as 15 English councils, have made an extra £26m available in top-ups to the UK government’s 'Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme'. The scheme, which is available nationwide, covers the costs of a gigabit connection in areas that are particularly difficult to reach; the top-ups boost the financial help available.

Steve Barclay, Chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “The pandemic has seen more services offered online and more businesses and consumers wanting to use online services, in particular from home. This announcement enabling over two million homes to have the fastest internet services will make a real difference to those businesses and consumers wanting to maximise the benefits of digital services.”

Rocio Concha, policy and advocacy director at consumer choice group Which?, said: “The coronavirus crisis has highlighted how vital fast and reliable broadband is, so it’s good to see the government prioritise more rural areas which have suffered for too long with poor internet connections.

“The government should clarify when these communities will actually be able to benefit from these connections, as consumers are relying on the internet more than ever and improving connectivity will play an important role as we recover from the pandemic.”

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