Debate on Project Gigabit and community-led internet service providers, House of Commons, 21 September 2021

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted that broadband is essential infrastructure. Access to fast and reliable broadband connectivity is vital to help communities stay connected, drive inclusive recovery and create quality jobs.


Key messages

  • The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted that broadband is essential infrastructure. Access to fast and reliable broadband connectivity is vital to help communities stay connected, drive inclusive recovery and create quality jobs.
  • Councils recognise the importance of world class digital connectivity and have partnered with the telecommunications industry to extend superfast and full-fibre broadband to the hardest to reach areas. The LGA has also worked with Government to support the work of the Barrier Busting Taskforce to share best practice in the sector. The taskforce was set up to identify and address the barriers preventing the fast, efficient and cost-effective deployment of gigabit-capable broadband and improved mobile coverage.
  • During the pandemic, access to effective broadband services has become essential to facilitating working and learning from home. Yet 17 per cent of rural residential premises, 30 per cent of rural commercial premises still do not have access to superfast broadband (30 Mbit/s or higher), and 6 per cent of all five to 15-year-olds have no fixed broadband access in their home.
  • Reliable digital connectivity is vital to allow people to fully participate in society. As we move into recovery, tackling the digital divide will be essential to address social and economic inequalities and level up every community.
  • Building Digital UK (BDUK) is currently conducting review of Community-led Internet Service Providers’ plans. As a result, projects that didn’t secure funding from the UK Gigabit voucher scheme before 24 September 2021 deadline, are expected to be paused until Summer 2022. We are concerned that a delay to the pace of the roll-out, will result in communities who have broadband below super-fast speeds, being further left behind.
  • Councils are well placed to act as a central contact point between government, internet service providers (ISPs) and communities, and with the right resources, could play a greater role targeting communities most in need, driving demand stimulation and providing digital upskilling to support the roll-out.
  • The LGA’s new publication ‘Councils role supporting the digital skills pipeline’, alongside LG Inform forecasts for digital employment, outline the key roles councils play in supporting local digital skills progression.

Project gigabit

  • Project Gigabit is the UK Government’s plan to deliver a minimum of 85 per cent gigabit-capable coverage across the UK by 2025.
  • A ‘gigabit capable connection’ is a broadband service that can achieve at least 1000 megabit (1 gigabit) per second download speed.
  • Through Project Gigabit, funding has been made available to eligible ISPs, including community-led providers, through three main routes:
    • Voucher scheme – The voucher scheme has been re-launched as the “UK Gigabit Voucher” (UKGV), with an additional £210 million funding. If a community is not included in any commercial rollout plans and there is an agreement not to wait to be connected through the Project Gigabit rollout, an application for UKGV can be made through the voucher scheme.
    • Local suppliers – Local suppliers can propose specific procurement areas on a case-by-case basis.
    • Regional suppliers – Suppliers are appointed through competition. Regional suppliers deliver across a region, in a phased approach, to areas that aren’t planned to be delivered through local suppliers or the voucher scheme.

UKGV Pause

Building Digital UK (BDUK), the directorate within DCMS responsible for delivering the Government’s gigabit broadband scheme, is currently reviewing all plans by community-led ISPs, that set out which premises they plan to roll-out gigabit broadband connections to. The terms of the UK Gigabit Voucher scheme state that when an area goes into Public Review, premises in-scope are no longer eligible for vouchers. As a result, projects that didn’t secure funding from the voucher scheme before 24 September 2021 deadline, are expected to be paused until Summer 2022 while the procurement processes for regional suppliers are carried out.

Community-led ISPs had previously been assured they could continue to deliver their planned pipeline of builds over the next five years, which would be marked as ‘Conditional White,’ meaning they would receive funding from the Gigabit Voucher Scheme.

However, BDUK has subsequently announced that projects, where ISPs have initiated agreements with communities to start gigabit connection builds, but did not secure vouchers before the 24 September deadline, may not be provided with funding during the current procurement period. This could take as long as 12 months. As a result, many communities could be left in limbo as they wait to find out if their broadband connection will receive funding, and when delivery can commence.

We are concerned that a delay to the pace of the roll-out will result in communities who have broadband below super-fast speeds being further left behind. With adequate funding, councils would be able to act as a central contact point between government, ISPs and communities to drive the roll-out to communities that are most in need.

Contact

Megan Edwards, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

[email protected]