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North Dorset UK Sign First Project Gigabit Broadband Rollout Contract

Tuesday, Aug 30th, 2022 (8:21 am) - Score 1,392

The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced that the first subsidy contract under their new £5bn Project Gigabit broadband scheme has today been signed with ISP Wessex Internet, which is a smaller local supplier deal that will aim to reach 7,100 premises in rural parts of North Dorset (England).

Just to recap. Project Gigabit was designed to help extend 1Gbps capable (download speed) networks to reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025, before hopefully nationwide coverage (c. 99%) by around 2030 (here). Commercial investment is expected to deliver around 80% of this, which leaves the government’s scheme to focus on tackling the final 20% (mostly rural and some sub-urban style areas), where private investment alone would struggle to reach.

NOTE: c. 70% of premises can already access a gigabit-capable network (c. 38% via just FTTP). Project Gigabit is technology neutral, so it can be delivered via either “full fibre” FTTP, Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) or fixed wireless access (e.g. 5G).

We should point out that public funding has, so far, already helped more than 740,000 UK premises to gain access to a gigabit speed network, such as though recent extensions to the original Superfast Broadband Programme (SFBB), as well as their Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS) and various Dark Fibre style investments to connect up public buildings.

However, the largest part of Project Gigabit involves a gap-funded subsidy approach – the Gigabit Infrastructure Subsidy (GIS) programme, where local and regional contracts are awarded to suppliers (i.e. ISPs / network operators) who can help to build their gigabit-capable networks across some of the hardest to reach parts of that final 20% (F20).

The good news is that the Building Digital UK (BDUK) team, which manages all of this, has finally awarded their first GIS contract to North Dorset (Lot 14.01) as planned. The contract, which originally identified 7,100 uncommercial premises within its procurement area and had an indicative value of £11m, was won by local ISP Wessex Internet. Today’s announcement puts the final value of this contract at £6m, but it’s unclear whether that includes any commercial contributions.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said:

“From Sherbourne to Stirling, lightning-fast broadband is levelling up towns and villages across the country.

In just three years we have increased the coverage of gigabit broadband from seven per cent of households to 70 per cent, and I am proud that today more than 20 million households, businesses and organisations are able to tap into rapid and reliable internet, unleashing their potential, creating opportunities and driving growth across the country.”

Hector Gibson Fleming, CEO of Wessex Internet, said:

“We’re thrilled to have been awarded the first contract under the government’s £5 billion Project Gigabit programme.

As a business based in North Dorset, our priority has always been to bring fast, reliable broadband to rural communities overlooked by other providers. We believe passionately that rural areas must have access to gigabit-capable connectivity and the exciting benefits it brings for homes, businesses and communities.

Over the last four years, we have connected thousands of homes and businesses across the South West to full fibre broadband and are excited to accelerate our roll out further with this new contract.”

According to the announcement, the first home in North Dorset will be connected by the end of the year, with an expected completion date for all under this contract by 2025.  The project will cover the rural outskirts of towns, villages and hamlets across the region from Sherborne to Verwood and Shaftesbury to Blandford Forum.

However, the North Dorset deal is only a smaller ‘Local Supplier‘ contract, although we expect it to be followed by a number of similar awards for North Northumberland (Lot 34.01), Teesdale (Lot 4.01) and Cornwall (Lot 32.02 and Lot 32.03). The first major ‘Regional Supplier‘ contracts for Cumbria (Lot 28) and Cambridgeshire (Lot 5) are also due very soon.

In short, today’s signing marks the start of a flurry of Project Gigabit delivery contracts to be “awarded over the coming months“, although this statement does rather overlook the fact that many of those contracts aren’t currently expected to be awarded until 2024 (here) and a few areas haven’t even entered the procurement pipeline yet.

As part of the programme, the government has already launched procurements totalling over £690 million, aiming to cover up to 498,000 premises. Finally, we should point out that the rest of Dorset also forms part of a larger regional procurement, which isn’t expected to be awarded until around spring 2024 but will aim to cover 56,500 premises (at an indicative contract value of £62 million – £105 million).

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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