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Question for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

UIN 128956, tabled on 14 December 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, pursuant to the Answer of 10 December 2020 to Question 126027 on Broadband, what criteria he plans to use to determine whether to bring forward additional spending on accelerating the UKs fibre rollout.

Answered on

11 January 2021

Homes and businesses that do not yet have access to superfast broadband will be prioritised for gigabit-capable delivery with connections capable of offering more than 1,000 megabits per second, or one gigabit per second.

There is a consultation underway looking at large regions of England that are most likely to attract commercial investment but requires subsidy to reach the hardest 40,000 to 80,000 premises in each area. In addition, there will be smaller contracts to connect around 1,000 to 8,000 premises, to stimulate competition across a wider range of small, medium-sized and rural specialist telecoms providers and help them to scale up. DCMS is also exploring how to make available a small number of contracts covering very large areas that are the least commercially attractive to build in. This would help make sure that no areas are left behind - even those where there is a limited prospect of competition.

As well as these supply-side market interventions, the government is also seeking industry views on how to extend its successful Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme from April 2021. The scheme allows people in rural areas to request a gigabit connection with the government subsidising the installation costs. This would help broadband suppliers respond to increasing consumer demand for gigabit broadband while the new procurements get up and running. The government will also continue its programme to connect public and community buildings - such as council houses, schools, libraries and GP surgeries - so they act as full-fibre ‘hubs’ from which industry can build their networks and connect surrounding homes and businesses.

These new procurements for gigabit infrastructure are set to begin in Spring 2021. The government will now seek industry and local authority views on the strategy to define small and large procurement boundaries, as well as ensuring that priority areas are served.

The recent Spending Review set out the timeline for how the first tranche of £1.2bn of funding will be made available to industry over 4 years. The commitment to spend £5 billion stands, and the government will accelerate this investment if industry can demonstrate it has the capacity to deliver further and faster.

In parallel to these interventions the Superfast programme has put in place a number of new contracts during 2020 for delivery between now and 2024. This obviously includes R100 in Scotland and Stratum in Northern Ireland. Less well publicised are a number of English and Welsh procurements such as Devon, Somerset, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, North Yorkshire, Cheshire and Lincolnshire. These new contracts are almost entirely for delivery of gigabit capable fibre. In total these represent c.500k premises with incremental delivery for the Superfast programme in lieu of the new Supply Side procurements under the UK Gigabit Programme.