In June 2022, DLA Piper published its latest article in its series on Project Gigabit (“Project”), detailing progress made by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (“DCMS”) up until Spring 2022 towards national coverage of gigabit-capable broadband. Further detail on the overall Project can be found in DLA Piper’s earlier article, issued in March 2021.
In continuation of these updates, DCMS have now issued their latest Summer Update (“Update”).
This latest update:
- Provides stakeholders with details on the progress made to the Project and its delivery plans;
- Details the ongoing success the Project has had in its use of the Gigabit Voucher Scheme and in upgrading Public Sector Hubs;
- Provides investors updates on the wider commercial investment in UK gigabit infrastructure; and
- Provides stakeholders with several policy, legislative, and regulatory updates put in place to aid in the push towards gigabit connectivity.
Progress towards a Gigabit UK
This season’s Update indicates a continuous increase in gigabit coverage. It is now estimated that 70% of premises, as of the end of August 2022, have access to gigabit-capable connectivity. Since the previous update, more than 1.1 million additional premises have been added by telecommunications providers. While further information is expected from Ofcom and the Project in the coming months, it is noted that at least 40% of business premises now have access to gigabit-capable connectivity.
Update to Gigabit Delivery Plans:
In August 2022, it was recorded that the total value of procurements since the inception of the Project has surpassed £690 million, with up to over 498,000 premises to receive gigabit-capable connections.
Within the same month, DCMS and Building Digital UK (“BDUK”) signed the first local Project Gigabit contract with Wessex Internet (for North Dorset). The contract is anticipated to connect up to 7,000 properties. This is expected to be shortly followed by an additional two further local contracts for Teesdale and North Northumberland.
Further afield, several regional procurements have reached their final stages of evaluation, with many expected to be awarded contracts in due course. Several public reviews and market tests have also been completed at the regional level for a number of procurements, with no sign that the Project looks to slow.
Over the past few months, DCMS have also re-opened discussions with the market on putting into place a framework to allow cross-regional supplier activity for those who have the capability of providing at a national level. These discussions continue to progress and are expected to result in the issuance of further information to the market.
Gigabit Voucher Uptake:
Since inception of the Project, over 106,000 vouchers have been issued, totalling over £214 million in subsidies. It is estimated that over 73,000 of these vouchers have already been used to connect premises to gigabit-capable broadband.
Connecting Business with Gigabit Vouchers:
BDUK continues to evaluate the effectiveness of vouchers for commercial and residential premises. As part of their latest evaluation, over 1,700 small and medium-sized businesses that received a form of voucher were surveyed on several aspects of commerce since receiving gigabit connectivity. Over 80% of those surveyed noted an increase in productivity. Over 40% of businesses also reported that they were able to reduce unnecessary travel and gain customers, due to their new connection.
Of greatest importance to DCMS and BDUK, however, is the fact that over 70% of these businesses indicated that the update has assisted them to adapt to the current market pressures and the COVID pandemic.
Public Sector Hubs:
The Project continues to provide public sector establishments with “fast and reliable” broadband.
In July 2022, BDUK and the Department for Education announced a joint £82 million investment to connect a further 3,000 schools in England to gigabit-capable broadband. The investment is expected to provide 500,000 primary school pupils with a fast and uninterrupted connection to the online world.
Alongside this new investment, DCMS are aiming to progress forward with their GigaHubs project in Leicestershire, which is expected to connect an additional 50 public sector sites to gigabit-capable broadband. It is expected that this aspect of the Project will be completed sometime before 2024.
Commercial Investment in UK Gigabit Infrastructure:
Gigabit infrastructure continues to receive substantial investment from the commercial sector. Since May 2022, over £5 billion has been invested by a number of private organisations.
Over the last three months, several telecommunications providers have also confirmed to have reached almost 10 million new non-commercial premises.
It is also reported that over 25 suppliers have announced or finalised their latest gigabit-capable broadband plans, which are expected to take effect in the near future.
As noted in previous updates, while market dynamics have changed somewhat, DCMS have seen no significant impact on the deployment of broadband infrastructure and it therefore continues to be a valuable prospect for potential investors.
Updates to policy, legislation, and regulation:
Very Hard to Reach Premises:
DCMS continues to assess policy options available to assist those premises that are unlikely to be reached through efforts of the Project, due to rurality or complexity of their location.
In DLA Piper’s previous update, it was noted that a call for evidence on the best methods of facilitating connectivity has been underway. This has now ended, and results of their findings are to be published in due course.
During the course of this investigation, several other UK Government initiatives have been working in tandem and have already succeeded in connecting a number of these premises to gigabit connections via other means.
In the previous update DLA Piper also highlighted the work of DCMS’ ‘Barrier Busting Taskforce’ and its work to increase access to fast, efficient, and cost-effective gigabit-capable broadband.
In June 2022, DCMS published its response to the consultation on the implementing regulations for the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act (“Act”). The Act is expected to provide a process that broadband suppliers can use to gain access rights to multi-dwelling premises in situations where an occupant has requested service and the landlord has not responded to the supplier’s request for access. The regulations of the Act are expected to be laid before parliament as soon as parliamentary time permits.
The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill also continues to progress through parliamentary procedure, completing the Committee stage in the House of Lords on 29 June (“Bill”). The Bill seeks to amend the Electronic Communications Code to encourage faster and more collaborative negotiation for the installation and maintenance of telecommunications equipment on private land. DCMS expects the Bill to receive Royal Assent later this parliamentary session.
Alongside these efforts, DCMS continues to develop policies to assist the Project in progressing towards its overall goal of 85% of premises having access to gigabit-capable connectivity.
DLA Piper continues to monitor updates and developments to Project Gigabit. For further information, or if you have any questions, please contact the authors or your usual DLA Piper contact.