In January 2023, DLA Piper published a further update in its series on Project Gigabit (“Project”), exploring the progress made by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (“DCMS”) up to the end of Autumn 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 similar fashion, DCMS have now issued their latest Winter 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
The latest update from DCMS continues to demonstrate an increase in coverage across the UK. The latest information made available by DCMS and Ofcom suggest that each nation within the UK has benefited in an increase in rural coverage of between 2% and 6%. It is estimated that, with this increase, 89% of premises in Northern Ireland, 73% of premises in England, 67% of premises in Scotland, and 57% of premises in Wales now have access to gigabit-capable coverage. This equates to roughly 73% of all UK premises now capable of connecting to gigabit-ready infrastructure.
Update to Gigabit Delivery Plans:
Since the previous autumn update, DCMS and their partner Building Digital UK (“BDUK”) have announced the award of six contracts, totalling roughly £164.8 million, and have launched an additional 14 procurements with an estimated value of £906.7 million. These recent awards include two local contracts awarded in the Cornwall regions and cover around 19,250 premises.
During the previous quarter, DCMS and BDUK indicated that they have successfully launched no less than 6 regional procurements, including those targeting Kent, Sussex, and Bedfordshire, and expect to launch a further three regional procurements and two local procurements in England within the coming weeks.
In addition to the launching of the already established procurements, DCMS and BDUK have continued to identify the first areas where cross-regional frameworks may be required. The process of commencing market engagement exercises has now commenced and all suppliers are invited to participate. The result of these engagements and the subsequent procurements are expected to launch in the coming months.
Across the other nations, market engagement continues to develop. In Wales, initial market engagements have now finalised and future areas of intervention are in development with the aim of a summer launch. Open Market Reviews in Northern Ireland closed on 27 January 2023 and responses are now in the process of evaluation. It is expected that public reviews and procurements are to commence at some point in autumn 2023. In Scotland, the process of Public Review is taking place and future procurements are expected to follow later in 2023.
Gigabit Voucher Uptake:
As indicated in our previous update, Gigabit Voucher uptake continues to increase. It is estimated that over 114,000 vouchers have been issued to date, with 84,000 of these already being used to connect premises to gigabit-capable broadband.
Changes to the Gigabit Voucher Scheme:
In the previous Update, it was indicated that upgrades would be made to the voucher scheme to deliver more targeted support and assist suppliers with very hard-to-reach areas. The scheme now provides a subsidy of up to £4,500 for residents and business towards the cost of installation via local broadband projects. These latest changes have already been implemented and are available to access on the new voucher platform.
Public Sector Hub Upgrades
Progress in connecting further public sector buildings to high-speed broadband continues to develop. Over the last quarter, a further 27 sites were successfully connected to high-speed infrastructure. A total of 6,650 Public Sector Hubs are now in operation.
Alongside these GigaHub projects, DCMS and BDUK continue to support the Department for Education in connecting schools across England to high-speed internet. The first tranche of these procurements commenced in the South West in January 2023. It is expected that the procurement process for both the North East and North West regions will commence by the end of March 2023.
Commercial Investment in UK Gigabit Infrastructure
During the previous quarter, the market has felt a slowing in investment activity due to most suppliers seeking to focus on delivering their current coverage commitments.
Despite this, new suppliers continue to launch plans for future deployment. Currently, the value of these plans is an estimated £100 million. This is expected to increase throughout 2023 as a further 20 suppliers finalise their latest plans for deployment.
Updates to policy, legislation, and regulation
Very Hard-To-Reach Premises:
During the previous quarter, DCMS and BDUK launched several ‘Alpha Trials’ to test the capabilities of low earth orbit satellites to deliver connectivity to the hardest to reach areas.
These trials included:
- 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.
The trials are to continue for a period of two years and will go on to target areas of single site deployment, such as for local mountain rescue teams, to more complex deployments, such as hard to reach islands in Scotland.
In December 2022, the Product Security and Telecoms Infrastructure Act 2022 received Royal Assent. This contained provisions that, among other things, intend to make it easier for operators to share hardware infrastructure, including ducting and telegraph poles. It is intended that this sharing of infrastructure will speed up the overall rollout of the Project.
Alongside this, provisions of the Telecoms Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021 have commenced in England and Wales (with Scotland to follow in July 2023). These provisions are expected to ease the process for operators who wish to install broadband services where the landlord cannot be reached.
Furthermore, the Building etc. (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2022 also came into force in December 2022. These regulations amend the Building Regulations 2010 and the Building (Approved Inspectors etc.) Regulations 2010 and are designed to futureproof new construction by implementing a requirement that new homes in England must come with infrastructure that will allow for gigabit connectivity.
National Parks Accord:
In this latest Update, BDUK have also announced that they have partnered with the National Parks England, Openreach, and Trenches Law in order to agree to a joint accord that ensures the efficient delivery of gigabit broadband throughout the 10 national parks. The accord includes terms that aim to reduce barriers to deployment, while ensuring that the landscape is impacted minimally.
Alongside these efforts, DCMS and BDUK continue 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.