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Website Woes Cause Problems for UK Gigabit Voucher Scheme

Sunday, June 6th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 1,536
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The UK Government’s new rural-focused Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme is said to have faced “significant challenges” due to issues with the stability of its website, which DCMS told ISPs had resulted in temporary site outages and “issues with automated supplier payments and reporting.” But only “some users” were affected.

The new scheme – part of the wider £5bn Project Gigabit programme – was relaunched on 8th April 2021 and is an almost identical replacement for the previous Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) project. Both schemes offer up to £3,500 for businesses, or £1,500 for homes, to help them get an ultrafast or gigabit-capable broadband ISP connection installed.

The main change between the old and new scheme has been to eligibility. Put simply, the Building Digital UK (DCMS) team have narrowed the eligibility criteria so that only those in the remotest areas (e.g. Ofcom’s Area 3) are eligible. This makes sense given the tighter rural focus of Project Gigabit, but it did initially cause a fair bit of disruption (here).

NOTE: Ofcom’s Area 2 is different from Area 3 as it reflects potentially competitive areas (covering about 70% of the UK), while non-competitive Area 3 reflects about 30%.

Since then we’ve also started to hear some new gripes from registered suppliers (ISPs) under the scheme, most of which have pointed toward disruption caused by outages of the programme’s voucher website. In a new notice, which has been seen by ISPreview.co.uk, DCMS / BDUK appears to acknowledge suffering from “significant challenges with the stability of the UK Gigabit Voucher website.”

The programme team put this down to “increased activity and complexity” in the voucher scheme, as well as the “exceptionally high number of voucher requests” that were submitted ahead of the closure of the old scheme at the end of March 2021. By the sounds of it, their site and its systems ended up facing significantly more demand than forecast.

A DCMS Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We are aware of a technical issue with our Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme website which was caused by high demand and has affected a small number of users. We are working quickly to resolve the matter, which will not affect the ability of any eligible home or business to get a voucher.”

The programme team are currently working to fix all of these issues. But that has meant they’ve needed to shift priorities and delay the delivery of some new website developments, such as the ability to reinstate or bring on new voucher top-ups, as well as the ability to process challenges on eligibility decisions generated by the UPRN checker, and to correct for performance issues with bulk uploads etc.

At the time of writing, it remains unclear how long all of this will take to be fully resolved, but we suspect (or hope) that it may be a matter of days or weeks rather than months. In the meantime, it’s noted that the underlying technical issue around automated payments has already been resolved (only two supplier payments were delayed by a few days due to this).

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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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6 Responses
  1. Peter S says:

    For those communities who submitted applications under the old voucher scheme which closed in March, it would be good to understand how Openreach’s recent updated 5 year build plan impacts these applications. As Openreach’s revised plan included a significant proportion of exchanges in OFCOM area 3 for which gigabit vouchers were available, it is possible that community schemes at application stage will now have their voucher support withdrawn.

    If this is the case it will be particularly frustrating for those communities receiving the poorest broadband services within these exchange areas. Openreach will likely only build out to around 80% of premises in each exchange area and these premises will likely be those already served by FTTC. Those premises who are unlikely to benefit from the commercial rollout could be locked out of voucher support in the meantime and will likely have to wait several more years for the project gigabit procurements.

    1. Value for Money says:

      Why is BT’s clawback not being used by LA to contract more English premises in the short term? BT accounts show £825m but does not record how much has be reinvested or paid back? ~480k premises are outstanding and another 200-300k in England could be contracted using the monies owed.

      The ‘gigabit-capable’ may not happen as it is not clear how the business case for overbuilding those on previously subsidised 30-80Mbps can be made when those excluded so far are not prioritised. Deducting BT’s 6m, or 5m given what is already done and contracted will pose another challenge.

    2. Barry Forde says:

      Peter S – I think the issue might be worse than it looks at first sight. Under UK Subsidy rules (new State Aid rules) because BT is using its own money for these builds it should be immediately impossible for DCMS to fund any competing builds. So if a local group has worked up a plan, submitted it to DCMS and had a PRP approved and started work, it could be in deep trouble. If the plan was based on vouchers to make it affordable and they have started to build assuming they can apply for and get vouchers as the build progresses and suddenly DCMS marks the postcodes as ineligible what happens? Ouch! It would be good to hear something from DCMS around how this will play out.
      Barry

  2. SM says:

    Just checked and the website says “Great news! This address is currently eligible for a voucher.”

    And lists around 90 “suppliers who can deliver” in the district council area, but as I found with the previous scheme, you have to look through the list and decide which are worth contacting, based on in my case purely names I recognise, which probably isn’t the best way to ensure getting a Gigabit connection, but if you go with some random almost unheard of, and they go bust or you have no choice of moving to another ISP/Provider, then are they really worth getting a connection from, versus a major name such as Openreach who seem only interested in a “community” application before they will even consider it?

    Feel like I’m just going to have to sit and wait for the local area Project Gigabit intervention to sign deals with suppliers and hope my area has been prioritised for a date not too far off in the future.

  3. Damien says:

    “Areas, such as rural locations where Openreach is the only operator providing a large-scale network (i.e. no rivals or plans by rivals) –

    The problem is that is a bit sneaky – I mean just because a provider Plans it does not mean they will come here in the next 10 years – so we have to suffer?

    I mean Area 3 is basically my town – nothing here but BT and g.fast in a handful of areas.. As far as I know no one plans to come here – and I am at the seaside!

    Maybe I should try and see if I can get a LL?

    1. Damien says:

      “This address is not eligible for a voucher
      Your address is classified as urban. The voucher scheme operates in rural areas”

      Well yeah looks like BT have us by the balls here – Nothing but low speed FTTC for the future it seems. Oh no that’s right BT plan to come here 2026(ish) so in reality 2035.. and yet they are allowed to stuff their own plans? Roll on Starlink – sooner I can ditch BTO the better

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