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£200m UK Rural Gigabit Broadband Connectivity Programme Starts

Sunday, May 19th, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 6,429
rural broadband trenching dig road

The UK Government has today officially launched their new £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) programme, which was originally announced during the 2018 Budget and aims to encourage an “outside-in” approach to building new ultrafast broadband ISP networks by focusing on helping to connect rural areas.

At present only around 7%+ of homes and businesses across the United Kingdom can access a Gigabit (1Gbps+) speed capable “full fibre” (FTTP / FTTH) broadband network and the Government wants to see 10 million premises covered by the end of 2022, rising to 15 million by 2025. After that there’s an aspiration to “deliver a nationwide full-fibre to the premises network” by 2033 (likely to need billions of extra public funding).

In order to encourage this the Government has proposed various changes as part of last year’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), which is on top of their existing Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) fund, a 5 year business rates holiday on new fibre (10 years in Scotland) and investment support via the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF). Some Building Digital UK (formerly Broadband Delivery UK) money is also helping the roll-out.

The FTIR report indicated that a large-scale deployment of “full fibre” to cover the final 10% of premises would eventually require some £3bn to £5bn of public investment (state aid). The Government also expressed a strong desire to pursue an “outside-in” strategy, which means they’ve been looking to introduce measures that could encourage rollout into some of the most difficult to reach rural areas (i.e. at the same time as supporting private investment in more commercially viable locations, such as urban areas).

As part of that “outside-in” philosophy they’ve today introduced the new £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme, which over the next 2 years (March 2021 completion) will aim to “pilot innovative approaches to deploying full fibre internet in rural locations, starting with primary schools, and with a voucher scheme for homes and businesses nearby.”

The Two RGC Approaches

1. Fostering Local Rural “Hub Sites

A hub site is really just the lingo for a public sector building, which is deemed to be eligible for intervention and aligns with qualifying criteria set by the BDUK programme. Initially this will start by connecting primary schools to “gigabit-capable” connections (full fibre is the obvious choice, but the announcement isn’t specific about technology) and 31 of those have now been identified as eligible under the scheme (see end of this article).

Other public buildings will then be added throughout the course of the programme (e.g. health sites and community halls). The idea being that you not only help to connect those hub sites, but also bring the fibre deeper into a remote community and thus provide a network that other commercial ISPs can build upon in order to reach surrounding homes and businesses (i.e. market stimulation).

The eligibility criteria for all this will take into account a number of factors, including rurality, funding considerations, state aid compliance, existing interventions (commercial or otherwise), value for money and deliverability within timescales of the programme.

2. Vouchers

The government already runs a £67m Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS), which offers a grant to help businesses (up to £2,500) and homes (up to £500) gain access to a 1Gbps capable connection. The GBVS is primarily business orientated and the only way for residents to benefit is as part of a local community group, which must include small businesses (i.e. up to 10 homes can participate for every one SME).

By comparison the new RGC vouchers will offer up to £3,500 for small businesses and up to £1,500 for residents. The greater size of the vouchers reflects the higher cost of deployment in such areas. Crucially the new scheme does NOT include a business requirement like GBVS (i.e. homes can easily get a voucher), but like GBVS it will still be possible to aggregate the vouchers in order to help tackle larger deployments.

The first wave of all this will focus upon “prioritised sites” in Cornwall, Cumbria, Northumberland and Pembrokeshire. Additional sites in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the rest of England will be announced in the “coming months“. The funding for this scheme comes from the Government’s National Infrastructure Productivity Fund (NPIF).

NOTE: A related £3m pilot of this approach was first unveiled in February 2019 via the old LFFN budget (here), which is now expected to connect 119 schools but is separate from today’s announcement (the 31 new schools are all different).

Jeremy Wright MP, DCMS Secretary of State, said:

“Our decision to tackle some of the hardest to reach places first is a significant shift in Government policy and will be instrumental in delivering our plans for a nationwide full fibre broadband network by 2033. Our rollout of superfast broadband transformed the UK’s digital landscape, and our modern Industrial Strategy is focused on investing in the infrastructure that will make Britain fit for the future.”

Robert Jenrick, The Exchequer Secretary, said:

“We want everyone across the country to have access to fibre broadband connections no matter where they live. We’ve set a target of having 15 million premises able to connect to full fibre by 2025 with a nationwide network by 2033 and committed to ensuring the most rural areas aren’t left behind.

This investment enables communities that have not previously benefited from broadband to leapfrog to the most advanced fibre technology – boosting productivity and enhancing quality of life.”

Granted £200m is only a small slice of what may ultimately be required to hook-up rural communities across the final 10% of premises, but for now this is all about taking a gradual approach and making it easier for network operators to develop viable economic models around such challenging rollouts.

This funding is thus ideal for smaller community centric rural ISPs like B4RN, which can no longer benefit from the Government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme (here) but should be able to take advantage of the new vouchers in order to help extend their network into some of the most remote communities.

Going even further into the future we’re likely to see more funding being invested and possibly a revised BDUK style approach, although when this happens the Government will need to be very careful not to distort the market that alternative rural ISPs (e.g. Gigaclear, B4RN) are already building in such locations. But we suspect this is still a few years away.

Equally we’d encourage the Government to take a closer look at the existing Open Market Review (OMR) process, which is currently used as a tool to identify existing network coverage and future rollouts so as to avoid overbuild when public money is used. But the OMR process only occurs every few years (i.e. often missing new build homes or failing to correctly reflect all altnet deployment plans) and this can cause problems.

Otherwise the new RGC programme will aim to complement other BDUK Programmes, such as Superfast Broadband and Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN), but “will not overlap” with areas where a gigabit-capable solution is already available or will be delivered through these existing interventions.

The Government has also signalled that this new programme may “explore other ways of rolling out gigabit capable connectivity in rural and hard-to-reach areas” using the outside-in approach, although they haven’t announced anything specific today (other than the above).

Gigabit Voucher Schemes (GBVS and RGC)
https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk

List of First 31 Schools

Blisland Primary Academy Cornwall
Braddock C of E Primary School Cornwall
Calstock Community Primary School Cornwall
Darite Primary Academy Cornwall
Delaware Primary Academy Cornwall
Grade-Ruan C of E School Cornwall
Halwin School Cornwall
Mevagissey Community Primary School Cornwall
Sithney Community Primary School Cornwall
St Erme with Trispen Community Primary School Cornwall
St Kew Atlantic Centre of Excellence Academy Cornwall
Madron Daniel (previously St Maddern’s) C of E School Cornwall
St Mellion C of E Voluntary Aided School Cornwall
St Mewan Community Primary School Cornwall
St Winnow C of E School Cornwall
Trannack Primary School Cornwall
Treverbyn Academy Cornwall
Trythall Community Primary School Cornwall
Wendron C of E Primary School Cornwall
Werrington Community Primary School Cornwall
Eaglesfield Paddle CE Primary School Cumbria
Holme St Cuthbert Primary School Cumbria
Rosley C of E School Cumbria
Acomb First School Northumberland
Cambo First School Northumberland
Cambois Primary School Northumberland
Ellingham C of E Aided Primary School Northumberland
New Hartley First School Northumberland
St Michael’s C of E Primary School Northumberland
Tweedmouth Prior Park First School Northumberland
Ysgol Llanychllwydog Wales

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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33 Responses
  1. Avatar Bill

    Rural seems to be the broadband buzzword these days.

    I think we need a new definition of rural.

    How about anyone located more than 1km from a cabinet and unable to access any decent alternative?

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      If you look at where these schools actually are they all would count as rural.

      The one in Tweedmouth is the most urban

    • Avatar Bill

      Alex, my point is that there is no need to always prioritise “rural” above others who also cannot access decent speeds – despite being in or near urban areas.

    • Avatar Bill

      Sorry meant Andrew not Alex…

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      Given the various announcements from various commercial operators going for those in urban areas is probably harder to predict and avoid overlaps

      While for sure some of those missed out so far in urban areas will welcome being first with intervention funding, the optics of doing would not be pleasing to those with political ideals

    • Avatar Chayne

      I’m connected to a cabinet nearly a kilometre away, yet in the opposite direction, there’s a cabinet not more than 50m away. Yet trying to find someone at BT to actually talk to about it is impossible.

  2. Avatar chris conder

    Is this the same Cornwall that has already had massive amounts of funding and squandered it on openereach cabinets? The same Cornwall that says superfast broadband is now at 95% coverage https://www.computerweekly.com/news/4500249233/Superfast-Cornwall-broadband-roll-out-boosts-local-economy-by-186m
    And how come the figures have changed from the promised 98% coverage if they got all the funding, to stating on all the BT sites that they have only covered 90%? And how come an area that has had hundreds of millions of pounds already can get even more?
    Let us hope history isn’t repeating itself yet again, and let us hope that altnets get this funding and do the job right this time.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/E06000052

      If all that was said in 2015 was true that Alex wrote, then why is it still down only at 91.5%

      I looked at the figures briefly in 2017 https://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/7802-7-000-more-premises-of-full-fibre-in-cornwall

      Believe the mistake Alex made in 2015 was to take a release saying 95% fibre coverage, when this does include long line VDSL2 that does not meet superfast criteria and attach the word superfast to it. One has to be careful when reading press releases and comments people make.

      Have looked at the schools mentioned and the majority are well below superfast speeds today, and none have FTTP access.

      As for squandering on Openreach cabinets – feel free to attack people over this Chris but Cornwall is the sixth most full fibre local authority in the UK at 36.1% so clearly a good amount did get spent on FTTP

      Why Cornwall – probably because an area that has had a lot of EU funding in the past and post Brexit that will not be available so this spending is possibly making up for that if you want to take a political stance on things.

    • Avatar Manipulation

      Did they spend the extra Millions early and not manage on “getting fixed line broadband at superfast speeds to 99% in a very rural part of the UK.”?
      https://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/6806-rural-affairs-minister-to-launch-99-superfast-project-in-cornwall

      Or are they still spending that money and are no longer confident in it achieving 99% “SUPERFAST” coverage, so need a load more from the government?

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @CC – you were asked by Andrew to show the £400M in the 2015 item, but did not answer.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      Well its not the end of 2021 yet and I am seeing more FTTP appearing in Cornwall so suggests project is delivering whether it will hit target we won’t know until the clocks have ticked a lot more

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      Not sure where I asked Cyberdoyle about the £400m at all.

      Was pointing out that what I believe was a mistake in some 2015 coverage that is leading Chris to believe that they’ve announced much higher coverage at superfast speeds than has been achieved.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @AF – you said:

      If BT have been paid £400m for cuurent delivered coverage in Cornwall then I’d to see the evidence for the amounts, that would be over £1200 of gap funding for every premise in County.

      In short I believe it is a baseless scaremongering figure.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      @TheFacts and where in this set of comments have I apparently said this?

    • Avatar NGA for all

      @Facts if it is helpful, original effort of £110m contracted was split £50m ERDF cornwall, and BT stated to CMS inquiry 2016 – Cornwall was £40m capex, £20m opex contracted not actual. Actuals have never been reported upon. Some PR points to £60m from Cornwall but that might include their own PM and promotion costs.

      Subsequent BDUK/Cornwall a further £12.5m for further 15.2k premises. This is still not complete.

      Note BT did self-funded 20 cabinets in Saltash.

      The monies bought 714 cabinets and if 36% is correct then this is about 110k premises can order an FTTP connection.

      A reconciliation of the funds would be needed but this would require Ofcom to accept that BT should pay a uniform contribution for a partially regulated wholesale product, something Ofcom considered in 2017 and then ignored.

    • Avatar OhFigures

      “so suggests project is delivering whether it will hit target we won’t know until the clocks have ticked a lot more”

      Hmm not looking good is it Andrew, your 2017 news link you mention stated ‘87.5% with a 30 Mbps or faster superfast broadband’.
      And your coverage map link today shows Superfast EU (>30 Mbps): 91.50%.

      So they have managed to increase it by 4% in 2 years (Actually less as that 91.50% is not just Openreach figures). Gonna need a rather big push to get that to 99% coverage by 2021 isn’t it? Especially as typically the last few percent are often even more difficult and costly to reach.

      Sounds like this latest round of money to me is likely throwing more on the fire to more Openreach unmet figures.

      Quite bizarre they want to spend Millions more in Cornwall when the government and BT were so confident in reaching 99% with Superfast speeds back in 2015.

      Not often i agree with Chris but it does indeed to me sound like a lot of money squandered on cabinets, which are unlikely to meet the 99% you quoted back in 2015 from my link and so now they are spending another £200 Million on the area.

      Oh well just another day in the laugh which is government funded broadband and Openreach figures.

    • Avatar Jim Weir

      @Ohfigures

      the £200M Rural Gigabit Connectivity isn’t just going to Cornwall – the 31 Schools announced in this phase are just the 1st batch of public buildings – the £200M will go much further.

      The 99% target is for connections via a fibre service not a superfast fibre service – even long lines connected via FTTC benefit from some uplift in connection speed even if they dont reach the 24Mbps or 30Mbps definitions of superfast – if you go from sub 2Mbps ADSL to 20Mbps FTTC, that isnt a failure?

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      £200 million being spent on Cornwall via RGC? What evidence of this, given this is just the initial round of 31 schools then clearly not just Cornwall and a lot more than 31 schools in the end, since £200m for 31 hubs with not many premises at all within a couple of kilometres is not a sensible use of money at all.

      Looking at the latest Cornish ‘fibre’ coverage figure i.e. including FTTC at 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23 Mbps then its at 97.3% i.e. up 1.5% in last two years. Continue that rate and will be very close to 99%

      Most of these problems stem from coverage where people have not realised that superfast coverage != ‘fibre’ based coverage.

      What the superfast figure will be all depends on where the FTTP is going but 96 to 97% superfast looks possible.

    • Avatar Readthefigures

      “The 99% target is for connections via a fibre service not a superfast fibre service – even long lines connected via FTTC benefit from some uplift in connection speed even if they dont reach the 24Mbps or 30Mbps definitions of superfast”

      You best re-read the link which clearly stated “broadband at superfast speeds to 99%”.

    • Avatar brian

      ‘if you go from sub 2Mbps ADSL to 20Mbps FTTC, that isnt a failure?’

      Are you joking? That would be an exact failure and noway should any connections that fall into that category of speed be defined as superfast in any sense, description or percent of superfast coverage.

      If any old figure of speed just because an area has FTTC or FTTP is now categorised as having superfast or RATHER you want it to be then the whole broadband funding saga is worse than i thought.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      The contract in Cornwall that is still delivering does seem to have a 99% target and seems to be a superfast figure, so work still to do in that respect….

      I started with questioning Chris who was saying that Cornwall is claiming 95% superfast coverage based on a 2015 article i.e back then, which I’ve should is not correct.

      The work from the 2015 contract is still being delivered based on what am finding over time. If people believe that contract has actually finished then finding the missing FTTP should be pretty easy given how much there should be. Plus would have expected more recent PR about them reaching that figure.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      @Brain

      None of the projects are saying 20 Mbps is a sueprfast speed.

  3. Avatar Tim

    How long will it take from a community being awarded the funding to actually having access to superfast broadband?

    • Avatar Lee

      Probably 2-5 years or longer ( assuming none of your locals that are on your parish church or Council board don’t block it on your area)

    • Avatar Joe

      2-5yrs is worse case. Most will but on the short side.

  4. Avatar Bill

    It would be interesting to know how many of these schools already have a dedicated leased line connection.

    I suspect a large number, making this exercise rather pointless.

    If providers start to build out FTTP networks from these locations then it is potentially a good move. Somehow I don’t see them queuing up to do so…

    • That’s a bold assumption, I’d rather see some evidence. There are a lot of rural schools with only basic copper broadband lines because the cost of getting a leased line installed in such an area would be disproportionately expensive. Remember a lot of rural schools are also quite small and so even the running costs of a leased line have to be carefully considered.

    • Avatar Bill

      Yes indeed some hard evidence would be good. In terms of secondary schools I know many take leased lines simply because their reliance on the internet these days is too high to put up with a contended/slow service.

      I wonder if this aspect was assessed – obviously the FTTC/ADSL side has been…

    • Avatar Jim Weir

      These aren’t secondary schools. Primary needs are different particularly for smaller rural schools.

      Some Local Authorities operated WAN Services connecting up all schools in their areas 5-10 years ago, but that was a mix of circuits and the smaller schools were often EFM or Wireless.

      Assuming that the strategic partner is Openreach this is a natural fit for the Fibre First Infrastructure Build product, which was developed for LFFN projects but fits this perfectly – ie the school can then order either FTTP or EAD depending on needs and other CP’s can make use of the Multifunction Node to build out in the local area.

    • Avatar Gadget

      afaik the guidelines were 10Mbps for Primary Schools and 100Mbps for Secondary Schools.

      Clearly the cheapest (but some might argue not the best solution) for Primary at the time could be accommodated by even ADSL2 or 2+ (distance allowing) , whilst most (but obviously not all) Secondary Schools are more likely to be in urban areas where leased line costs to supply 100Mbps and upwards might be cheaper to provide.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      I think this will help in some areas, but not all. Rural primary schools are often at the centre of a village – many of which already have FTTC. For example our local school has FTTC, and being near the cabinet I assume gets pretty much full speed, as will most the houses in the village. Those of us outside the village who can’t get FTTC at all won’t really be helped by a FTTP node at the school as the build cost to reach us will still be too high, and all the houses within easy reach already have good FTTC so they are unlikely to pay extra for FTTP.

    • Avatar brian

      Yikes id hate to be a kid in a classroom of 15-30 kids trying to share 10Mb or less, especially in a lesson with video content. Poor kids, must be like watching the first 144p youtube video. Shocked they have any eyesight left watching a blocky mess like that.

    • Avatar Bill

      Actually the best way to protect their eyesight is to give them such a slow connection that they are discouraged from using digital devices…

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