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Broadband: Rural Areas

Question for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

UIN 72900, tabled on 13 July 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, how much of the £200 million allocated to hubs and SME vouchers for the Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme has been spent.

Answered on

16 July 2020

RGC is a demand side intervention and the run rate is therefore driven by demand from public buildings (“hubs”) in rural areas requesting an upgrade to full fibre, and demand from rural SMEs and residents for “vouchers”. Demand got off to a slow start in 2019/20 as the programme was established and the interventions took time to come into effect. Hub demand is stimulated through Other Government Departments, and voucher demand is being stimulated by suppliers and Local Authorities. £17.4 million was spent on the programme in 2019/20.

As the programme is now fully established, the run rate is in line with the original plans for 2020/21. The department is forecasting £23.7 million will be spent on hubs in 2020/21 and forecasting £71 million will be spent on vouchers in 2020/21. Nonetheless the department is mindful of the challenges to the programme posed by COVID-19.

However, the programme has generated a strong pipeline of public building upgrades and voucher demand for subsequent years. Whilst the RGC programme itself will end in March 2021, the demand “hopper” will feed the demand side intervention in the successor programme - the UK Gigabit Programme - from March 2021 onwards. HM Treasury has agreed that the programme can contract for connections in 2020/21 that will be delivered in 2021/22, which will ultimately close the shortfall from 2019/20. Of the 39,829 public buildings sites analysed through the programme to date, 5,745 are eligible and form this “hopper” of prospective upgrades.

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