In September 2022, DLA Piper published its latest article in its series on Project Gigabit (“Project”), detailing the progress made by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (“DCMS”) up to the end of Summer 2022 towards national coverage of gigabit-capable broadband. Further detail on the overall Project can be found in DLA Piper’s earlier article, posted in March 2021.

In continuation of these updates, DCMS have now issued their latest Autumn 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

Project Growth:

As with previous updates, the Update demonstrates a continued increase in overall coverage across the UK. It is now estimated that nearly 75% (with their target coverage level being 85%) of premises, as of October 2022, have access to gigabit-capable connectivity. This equates to roughly over 30 million individual premises throughout the UK and 43% of all businesses across the nation.

Update to Gigabit Delivery Plans:

As of November 2022, DCMS and their partner Building Digital UK (“BDUK”) recorded a total value of procurements since the creation of the project to be in excess of £780 million. This is an increase of roughly £90 million since their update in September 2022. It is estimated that these procurements, of which 16 are currently live, have successfully reached more than 545,000 premises within their scope.

Since the last update, DCMS and BDUK have awarded their first regional contract for Cumbria, on a much larger scale than previous awards. With a value of £108 million, this is the largest contract of the Project to date and is expected to reach up to 59,000 premises across the region.

The success in Cumbria has also been accompanied by a number of additional local contracts, including Teesdale and North Northumberland, valued at £6.6 million and £7.3 million and aiming to reach a further 7,800 premises.

In this Update, DCMS have indicated that all public reviews (the stage in which suppliers may comment on the proposed target areas for procurement) in England are now closed, with feedback and evaluations on commercial plans to be provided in due course. In Wales, public reviews have been completed and assessment as to where intervention is required will now begin. Northern Ireland has now launched its own open market review, while Scotland has finished their own public review for procurement in the Inverness area.

In August, DCMS also issued a prior information notice for a cross-regional supplier framework (as noted in our previous update) and held a market engagement event in September. Development of this framework continues and is expected to launch in January 2023.

Source: DCMS. Project Gigabit Autumn Update 2022.

Gigabit Vouchers

Gigabit Voucher Uptake:

Since the previous update, the use of Gigabit Vouchers as continued to increase. It is now estimated that over 111,000 vouchers have been awarded, with 79,000 being used to connect premises to gigabit-capable broadband.

Changes to the Gigabit Voucher Scheme:

With the ongoing success of the voucher scheme, BDUK has decided to amend the scheme to greater assist areas where the current targeted support does not reach some of the more isolated areas.

These changes include:

  • Refining the eligibility criteria for projects to better target premises in rural areas that are not expected to be reached by traditional Project interventions;
  • Increasing the value of vouchers from £1,500 and £3,500 for homes and businesses, respectively, to £4,500 for all beneficiaries;
  • Launching a new platform too allow suppliers to interact with the scheme more efficiently; and
  • Strengthening supplier delivery reporting to better monitor project build progress and encourage suppliers to deliver on their commitments.

Public Sector Hub Upgrades

Progress in connecting public sector buildings to fast and reliable connections continues with this latest Update.

Recent successes have included delivering gigabit-capable connections to sites across the UK, such as further NHS locations in hard-to-reach areas in the highlands and islands of Scotland.

As part of a joint investment with the Department of Education, this aspect of the Project also aims to connect up to 3,000 schools in England to gigabit-capable connections, with the project commencing in early 2023. On conclusion of the programme, it is estimated that this will provide access to highspeed connections to roughly 500,000 primary school students.

Commercial Investment in UK Gigabit Infrastructure

Over the last quarter, commercial investment into gigabit infrastructure has continued to grow. During this period, over £1.3 billion has been invested by several private organisations.

During this time, telecommunications providers have also announced their progress in deploying gigabit connectivity across the UK, indicating that an additional 9 million new premises have been added to the network.

In tandem, a further 30 suppliers have announced their own gigabit deployment plans, with implementation expected in the next few years.

Updates to policy, legislation, and regulation

Very Hard to Reach Premises:

A continuing consideration of DCMS is how to best approach premises in very hard to reach areas.

In effort to address this, a number of alpha trials have been launched to test the viability of satellite connectivity in areas where wired connections are logistically or commercially unfeasible.

These include trials in:

  • Rievaulx Abbey in the North Yorkshire National Park;
  • Wasdale Valleyin the Lake District National Park; and
  • Ogwen Valley and Crafnant Valley respectively, both in the Snowdonia National Park.

Connectivity to these alpha trial sites is expected to be delivered by DCMS using Starlink’s low earth orbit satellite constellation. Further information on this delivery is expected over the coming months.

New Build Connectivity:

On 26 December 2022, new regulations amending the Building Regulations 2010 came into force requiring the installation of gigabit-ready infrastructure and connections into new homes. These were originally laid before parliament on 26 September 2022, following the publication of a technical consultation response on 22 September 2022.

Among other things, these regulations require that:

  • Gigabit-ready infrastructure forms part of the design and implementation of new builds, to the extent practicable; and
  • Such connections are subject to a cap of £2,000 per dwelling. Where it is not possible for a developer to work within the cost cap, developers must install the next fastest connection available within the cap.

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.