Home
 » ISP News » 
Sponsored

PAC Criticises UK Gov for Slow Rural Gigabit Broadband Progress UPDATE

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022 (7:33 am) - Score 1,368
rural_landscape_england_broadband

The Public Accounts Committee has today issued a new report on the progress being made by the UK Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit rural broadband rollout programme, which questions whether it will meet its targets and criticises the project for “relying too heavily on commercial contractors for the progress that has been made.”

In case anybody has forgotten, Project Gigabit intends to expand the availability of gigabit-capable (1Gbps+) broadband ISP networks across the final 20% of predominantly rural premises. The goal is to ensure that such speeds reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 and then universal coverage by 2030 (here), albeit somewhat dependent upon how the industry responds (i.e. so far only £1.2bn has been released).

NOTE: Gigabit broadband networks currently cover around 65% of UK premises, but this is largely thanks to commercial builds in urban areas – particularly Virgin Media’s upgrade of their existing network (here) – and those are expected to reach c.80% of premises in the next few years.

A year ago the PAC published a key report on this project (here), which identified a “litany” of failures, such as a lack of clarity over delivery time-scales, as well as an inability to demonstrate how its new centralised procurement model would be better than the old (local authority managed) approach and a failure to make meaningful progress on “tackling the barriers faced by operators in maximising gigabit connectivity.

In fairness, the previous report was published just before Project Gigabit set out its plans in more detail and formally began the procurement process. Since then, three deployment phases (here) have already been announced and the Government has proposed various changes to remove some of the remaining barriers to build, such as via updates to the Electronic Communications Code (here).

Despite this, the first contracts under the early phases (1 and 2) of Project Gigabit aren’t expected to be awarded until later this year, and it will then take several months before building can begin (late 2022 or early 2023). Later phases of the programme are even further behind, with some areas estimating contract commencement dates for late 2024, which is far from ideal and a lot of areas still haven’t even been announced yet.

The PAC’s new report – ‘Delivering Gigabit Capable Broadband‘ – picks up on the aforementioned issues and echoes various other frustrations with the current level of progress (see below), although such procurements are often inherently long and complicated affairs.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“DCMS’ planning and project management show all the signs of the previous rollout – that the focus will continue to be on the easier to reach areas and there is still no clear plan for the hardest to reach communities. It couldn’t really explain how broadband has got as far as it has in this critical national strategy, beyond “thanks to Virgin Media”, and incredibly it still doesn’t have a real plan for getting the rest of the way to its own downgraded targets.

What DCMS does know full well is it can’t rely on the private sector to get fast broadband to the hardest to reach, excluded and rural areas, and despite its repeated promises to do exactly that we are apparently little nearer to closing “the great digital divide” developing across the UK nor addressing the social and economic inequality it brings with it.”

Andrew Glover, Chair of ISPA, said:

“This report rightfully highlights the ongoing challenges in achieving gigabit rollout targets. It also recognises the significant gains made by the private sector and supports our assertion that industry has always been ready to deliver on the Government’s target. But in order to reach nationwide coverage, Government and Parliament need to do more to remove the barriers preventing effective rollout. We need real commitment and urgency in dealing with wayleaves – including by passing the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure (PTSI) Bill – but also clarity on how Government is intending to financially support rollout in the hardest to reach areas.”

The government has so far identified up to 2.5 million hard-to-reach homes and businesses in scope of Project Gigabit across the UK (mostly England and Wales) and is in the process of identifying more (i.e. those within the final 20% of premises that may not benefit from commercial builds). Once completed, a total of around 5-6 million UK premises could potentially stand to benefit from this programme, assuming it can deliver.

In reality, there’s only so much you can do to speed up the current process, which is because it involves a lot of complex coverage reviews, assessments, legal checks and general admin before any contracts can be awarded. After that, you then have to allow several more months for engineering surveys to take place by the chosen supplier(s), before a final rollout plan emerges.

Suffice to say, all of this always takes an extremely long time to complete, which tends to be true no matter how you approach the process (i.e. be it centrally or locally managed). For example, it took 2-3 years before the original Superfast Broadband Programme (SFBB) awarded its first contracts and recent programmes, such as R100 in Scotland, took even longer. The more complex the challenge, the longer it takes to reach build.

Nevertheless, there is a general feeling among the ISPs we speak with of BDUK being under-resourced for the scale of work they’ve been asked to take on. The problem here is that the benefits of a more centrally managed procurement process can only be fully realised if the process is adequately supported, enabling it to tackle masses of different regions at the same time. But as it stands, some contracts may not even begin build until 2024/25 – the same year as the government’s target for 85% gigabit coverage – and that’s simply not good enough.

NOTE: The Building Digital UK team within DCMS, which oversees Project Gigabit, is due to become an executive agency and that may help to resolve a few of these early problems (here).

A Spokesperson for DCMS (BDUK) said:

“It is misleading to suggest we are reliant on the commercial sector to hit our target, which we remain on track to meet. We are investing £5bn so hard-to-reach areas can get gigabit speeds. Our policies and investment also mean 97% of premises can access superfast broadband which meets people’s current needs and helped us through the pandemic.”

For what it’s worth, we think the 85% target for the end of 2025 is still achievable, albeit mostly due to the extraordinary progress being made by the commercial sector and alternative networks (AltNet) providers. The real challenge will be filling that gap from 85% to 100%, which is where builds tend to struggle, with deployments taking longer due to sparse rural populations and costs rising disproportionately (here).

Finally, we should add that the Government has previously warned that those in the final 1% may still be “prohibitively expensive to reach“, although they’ve recently clarified that less than 0.3% of the country (c.134,000 premises) are likely to fall into this category (roughly the same gap that the 10Mbps USO has struggled to fill). Solutions for those in the final 0.3% of “Very Hard to Reach” areas are currently being consulted upon, but we’ve yet to see the outcome of that.

As above, it’s difficult to pass judgement on Project Gigabit while it’s still going through the middle stages of early procurement. We won’t really get a feel for how the programme will progress until those first contracts have actually been awarded, and the build is able to begin, which is still some months away. In the meantime, the PAC has published a list of recommendations, most of which seem quite fair.

Summary of the PAC’s Recommendations

➤ The Department’s reporting still lacks the consistency and detail needed to enable Parliament and the public to tell what progress it is making in rolling out gigabit-capable broadband across the UK. Given the critical nature of this issue and our concern about the Department’s grip on it, we recommend that the Department should:

• work with the National Audit Office to determine the most appropriate metrics and frequency for reporting progress with the scheme; and

• by the end of March 2022, write to us with the results of this work and outline how and when it will provide us with regular and transparent updates on the programme.

➤ The Department has so far been overly reliant on the contributions of commercial suppliers in improving gigabit coverage. The Department should set out what progress it has made towards its coverage target of 85% by 2025. This should be broken down by how much coverage is being achieved by:

• individual commercial suppliers, such as Openreach, Virgin Media O2 and smaller suppliers know as alternative networks or “alt-nets” etc., and the extent to which it is through full fibre technology; and

• the gigabit voucher scheme.

The Department should also adopt a flexible procurement approach which allows it to respond to market developments without endlessly delaying the signing of contracts for commercially unviable areas.

➤ We are disappointed that the Department has still not taken significant action to remove barriers to rolling out Project Gigabit. The Department should write to us setting out what progress it has made:

• to remove barriers to deployment, including details of the findings from its consultations and its response in the four priority areas of:

a) access to land
b) street works
c) new build connectivity; and
d) supporting mobile deployment.

• to remove equipment from high-risk vendors from the relevant networks.

➤ The Department’s approach to rolling out gigabit risks perpetuating digital inequality across the UK. The Department should, from the start of April 2022, publish statistics every 3 months showing its regional and national breakdown of progress against its gigabit coverage target.

➤ The Department does not have a detailed plan to ensure that those in the very hardest to reach areas are not being left behind. The Department should write to us setting out how it will reach the remaining 15% left out of the 2025 target, as well as the very hardest to reach 0.3%. This should include what progress it has made in developing and procuring new technologies.

UPDATE 7:47am

We’ve added a comment from the Local Government Association (LGA) below, which naturally pushes the pro-council perspective.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, LGA Digital Connectivity Spokesperson, said:

“To help the Government reach its 2025 target, councils need more funding to support telecommunication providers to deliver improvements on the ground. The Government should empower councils to place a local digital champion in every local area to help facilitate delivery and support providers to install gigabit-capable broadband as quickly as possible.

This will be essential to avoiding local bottlenecks and the slowing down of delivery. We are concerned there is no detailed plan in place to ensure those in the very hardest to reach areas are not left behind. A local digital champion would be a central contact point for government and broadband providers to help problem solve deployment issues in the local area.”

UPDATE 21st Jan 2022

We have a comment from INCA, which represents a lot of UK AltNets.

Malcolm Corbett, INCA CEO, said:

“The independent sector is already playing a critical role in delivering the government’s target of a gigabit Britain, especially in areas the incumbent firms don’t think are commercially viable. Last year we published a report showing that over 2.5m homes and businesses in the UK could now connect to an independent fibre broadband network, many of which are located in areas considered hard to reach. When this year’s report is published, we expect that number to have dramatically increased during 2021.

We have a great opportunity in this country to create a truly gigabit Britain and radically reduce the country’s digital divide. INCA believes that the best way to achieve this is by encouraging a competitive market of players to rapidly build new networks across the country, often focusing on specific regions or geo-types.

Deterring the competitive investment that has done so much over recent years to accelerate the pace of new fibre deployment will slow fibre roll out in all areas, something that will be of concern to MPs from all parts of the country. If it is to achieve its targets then DCMS needs to shift its focus towards delivering more agile interventions that encourage independent networks to bid and away from designing large, time-consuming procurements which are only really suitable for the incumbent operator.”

Share with Twitter
Share with Linkedin
Share with Facebook
Share with Reddit
Share with Pinterest
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.
Leave a Comment
27 Responses
  1. Alec says:

    Am hopeful that some updates under these schemes will be made in the next 12 months for our area. Having exhausted all community options we’re entirely stuck. Openreach want 100% adoption and £4,000 per property (after discounted available funding options like vouchers). Outside of the community schemes, they confirm they have no plans for our area and nothing on their roadmap, so I assume that’s 12-24 months into the future of nothing.

    Alternate providers met with us and suggested they could consider a project in a few years and wanted to only cherry pick the easy to reach properties (central village), but only if they happened to take on projects in the surrounding areas.. aka, won’t happen. Many of us are looking forward to ditching ADSL1 and our 1-2Mb down, 0.25up connections which simply are no longer fit for purpose.

    4G backbone in our area is shocking, at peak times you get 2 second latency and throughput at best of 300Kb/s. when less busy round 600Kb/s – 900Kb/s. Hoping upgrades to 4G in the future will help our area. Most people jumping on the 4G options purely due to lack of other viable options in our area. Crazy…

  2. Philip Smith says:

    Project Gigabit is glacially slow and opaque there is no getting away from that.

    At this stage Openreach (and others) have a clear methodology, install fttp on new builds or where it is relatively straightforward and has commercial viability. Only adding area’s that a competitor starts building in or announces firm plans.

    Anywhere else may get done with BDUK subsidies in the fullness of time, as difficult as that is for those of us in the countryside it is the reality and anyone that runs a company beholden to its shareholders would do the same.

    Why invest their own money when the government will pay them to do the same job and shorten the return on investment.

    I wonder what will happen with the customers left without fibre as the copper deadline passes and disposal dates for the leaseback exchange buildings gets closer?

    1. Alec says:

      I was researching the copper line question today for that same thought process..

      Turns out, in the Openreach FAQ about it, they specifically call out a technology for “rural” areas, SOTAP. Which essentially means traditional analogue phones in rural areas, with the VOIP, analogue/digital conversion part happening in the exchange instead.

      Or, in other words. Rural, once again not included in any meaningful upgrade plans to the consumers.

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      SOTAP is the ADSL equivalent of SOGEA on FTTC, which is needed because the copper and hybrid fibre network will have transitioned from analogue to IP based voice solutions by December 2025 – before the national FTTP deployment is completed in every area (a separate, albeit complementary, programme).

    3. Alec says:

      Thanks Mark.

      I need to read up on it more. but from the FAQ it implies the VOIP phones on FTTC/FTTP are simply plugged into the router.. thus use whatever net connection you have and share your net connection.

      I was under the assumption that this would run as some kind of background service on the line rather than use whatever net service a person pays for each month.

      I’ve probably misunderstood the FAQ content, but it made me wonder if I have ADSL on a slow line, which is essentially maxed out 24/7.. then add VOIP over that line for the landline replacement, does it use the same DSL connection, or establish some other background connection over the line?

      I’m concerned that with very slow lines, quality will be bad due to all the bandwidth being consumed by other processes. I already use VOIP stuff which is prioritized on the network, but then the wife loads a pic of a fluffy kitten on reddit and lags the line out, which makes calls unstable and in most cases, unviable.

      still trying to get up to speed on stuff 🙂

    4. NE555 says:

      It’s a single ADSL service being used for both data and voice. e.g. if you buy your service from BT, then BT will supply you with an ADSL router that also has a phone port, and makes VOIP calls over the ADSL.

      A voice call requires about 0.1Mbps in both directions. I would expect BT to prioritise the voice, so that the data usage would slow down a little while a call is in progress.

      There is no “spare bandwidth” on the copper to be used for a separate data channel for voice. If they could do that, they’d be using it already!

  3. Optimist says:

    The report admits that the hardest to reach premises would be better served by satellite or other technologies (presumably WISP). So why doesn’t the government get on with extending the voucher scheme to include these solutions?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      The usual slow pace of political process / consultations. But also partly because Starlink is only just exiting beta, while the part-UK-owned OneWeb solution via BT or Eutelsat is still some way from becoming a commercial product for communities.

      But there is also a concern that using Satellite and WISPs may not result in the kind of meaningful long-term connectivity solution(s) that the Government really wants to see.

    2. DaveIsRight says:

      Plus with the variable weather in the UK aren’t satellites prone to dropouts and patchy coverage when the weather gets bad? I would think most people expect their stuff to just work and not be variable due to the weather especially in a country where the weather isn’t known for being good all the time.

    3. Optimist says:

      Mark – surely a short-term solution is better than waiting for decades for the government-approved long-term solution? After all, in the long run we are all dead.

    4. Optimist says:

      DaveIsRight – All the reviews of Starlink I have seen have been positive, but not perfect. But I experience occasional outages on my VM connection, once for several days. Nothing is 100% reliable.

    5. GaryH says:

      Then the report is wrong, sat or wisp is not ‘better served’ than a fttp connection, its a will do for now solution with limitations.

    6. Disgruntled of Dankshire says:

      Re hard to reaches, why not microwave to the outlying then fibre around the village/small town and not fibre the long distances?.

    7. Optimist says:

      Disgruntled of Dankshire – That’s the sort of innovative thinking we need. I found an example, but how successful it has been I do not know.

      https://www.virginmedia.com/corporate/media-centre/press-releases/virgin-media-trials-wireless-signals-to-give-village-gigabit-fibre-broadband-and-tv

    8. Disgruntled of Dankshire says:

      There is a system in Wales, set up by a clever chap who used radio links from houses, piggybacked where required, to the church, then by direct connection to the pub, and onto the BT network. This was done over ten years ago, in the days of adsl. Subscribers paid for the radio kit, then approx 10 quid a month for overheads. Why is the English government so reluctant to invest in the future?, why do our engineers come up with brilliant ideas, which fall by the wayside due to lack of English government investment? And yes as has been stated before, why didn’t we start down the fibre route years ago.

    9. Anon says:

      All of the Project Gigabit subsidies, including Vouchers, are tech agnostic; so any of the solutions proposed above would be allowed. It’s up to the network builder to propose them as part of a project.

  4. Meadmodj says:

    “We are investing £5bn”. No your not, the Government have only committed £1.2Bn so far and as highlighted we are unlikely to see the first awards until effectively next year at the earliest. People forget the pledge was made in 2019. It is a classic we want to look as if we are doing something but don’t want to spend anything. Supported by clueless Nadine’s claim that the current availability of Gigabit is down to them.

    What is also forgotten is some of the commercial development is on hold awaiting confirmation who is going to get the outlining areas and overbuild appears set to grow.

    1. Meadmodj says:

      sorry outlying

    2. Disgruntled of Dankshire says:

      Looking at the absolute farce FTTP rollout has been, there should be one supplier, loaned oodles of money by the government. One supplier recoups loan via monies payed by subscribers. No altnets, no local government, both these organisations are an hindrance to progress and an expense on the public purse. One suppler has to report progress publicly at least twice a year, with removal of the top people if they fail to meet targets and stsndards. As pointed out by PAC, the issue of land access etc need to be legalised to allow what is a national asset to flourish.

  5. leftbehindcommunity says:

    Can’t help but think that had BDUK actually pursued the notion of ‘Outside In’ as was originally envisioned, before lowering their sights, the hardest to reach properties, actually less than 140,000 of them across the country, could have been connected by now. It might have cost £1B to do it, but it would not only have resolved a key question of the whole digital divide debate, it would also have been an excellent proving ground for innovative approaches.

    1. Optimist says:

      leftbehindcommunity – £1 billion for 140,000 premises works out at over £71,000 per property. That would pay for a satellite subscription for decades!

    2. NE555 says:

      Actually, £1bn for 140K works out at just over £7,100 per property, which would be cheap if that were the real cost.

      £1bn will buy you a couple of years of a DUP “confidence and supply” arrangement. Or 4 miles of HS2.

    3. Optimist says:

      Ne55 – Ooop! My bad!

    4. GaryH says:

      you make 7k sound like its somehow not acceptable, bear in mind the Scottish Gov is prepared to give me a 5k voucher right now for ‘superfast’.

      Personally I think a massive issue for the least financially viable areas aside from the cost per passed property/ROI is the time to deploy there, all the companies building are business focussed on growing their coverage in numbers not by area and sparse locations aren’t a good place to be sending your teams and losing ground/profit to competitors when you could be building in denser areas.

    5. A_Builder says:

      I would tend to agree.

      Maybe omitting the outermost 1% cost wise?

      One thing that was never clear from the modelling was what the long tail costs look like. ie at what point the last fraction of a % go to £££££stupid. Without knowing that it is very hard to make an informed judgement on the size of the OMIT class.

  6. GaryH says:

    I’m assuming I’m in the final 1% possibly the .3% who knows, all i have to go on is the fact we’re not in a cluster and we’ve been not included in any plans for R100 so i think we can take it the GB plans wont include us either.

    Question is are we going to see a checker for the GB rollout at some point do you think? Or ae we just going to be left in limbo for 8 years without actually knowing.

  7. Peter Wilkinson says:

    Got to agree with Disgruntled.

    Too many players and clueless incompetent needy, interfering councillors who just do things to look important and busy. It’s a complete farce of a rollout and would make a good comedy sitcom.

Leave a Reply to Alec Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments RSS Feed

Javascript must be enabled to post (most browsers do this automatically)

Privacy Notice: Please note that news comments are anonymous, which means that we do NOT require you to enter any real personal details to post a message. By clicking to submit a post you agree to storing your comment content, display name, IP, email and / or website details in our database, for as long as the post remains live.

Only the submitted name and comment will be displayed in public, while the rest will be kept private (we will never share this outside of ISPreview, regardless of whether the data is real or fake). This comment system uses submitted IP, email and website address data to spot abuse and spammers. All data is transferred via an encrypted (https secure) session.

NOTE 1: Sometimes your comment might not appear immediately due to site cache (this is cleared every few hours) or it may be caught by automated moderation / anti-spam.

NOTE 2: Comments that break our rules, spam, troll or post via known fake IP/proxy servers may be blocked or removed.
Cheapest Ultrafast ISPs
  • Gigaclear £17.00
    Speed: 200Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Community Fibre £20.00
    Speed: 150Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Hyperoptic £22.00
    Speed: 158Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Virgin Media £25.00
    Speed: 108Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Vodafone £25.00
    Speed: 100Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
Large Availability | View All
New Forum Topics
Cheapest Superfast ISPs
  • Hyperoptic £17.99
    Speed 33Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • NOW £20.00
    Speed 36Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Shell Energy £21.99
    Speed 35Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Vodafone £22.00
    Speed 38Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Plusnet £22.99
    Speed 36Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: £70 Reward Card
Large Availability | View All
The Top 20 Category Tags
  1. FTTP (4118)
  2. BT (3152)
  3. Politics (2118)
  4. Building Digital UK (2026)
  5. Openreach (1969)
  6. FTTC (1922)
  7. Business (1834)
  8. Mobile Broadband (1606)
  9. Statistics (1510)
  10. 4G (1379)
  11. FTTH (1371)
  12. Virgin Media (1277)
  13. Ofcom Regulation (1241)
  14. Fibre Optic (1235)
  15. Wireless Internet (1234)
  16. Vodafone (927)
  17. EE (906)
  18. 5G (898)
  19. TalkTalk (821)
  20. Sky Broadband (787)
Promotion
Helpful ISP Guides and Tips
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
»
Sponsored

Copyright © 1999 to Present - ISPreview.co.uk - All Rights Reserved - Terms , Privacy and Cookie Policy , Links , Website Rules , Contact