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Gigabit Broadband Contracts Awarded for Oxfordshire and Staffordshire UK UPDATE

Saturday, Nov 25th, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 2,160
Project-Gigabit-Funded-by-UK-Government

The UK Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit broadband rollout scheme has today announced two new contracts, which sees ISP Gigaclear awarded £26.5m to cover around 10,000 rural premises in North and South Oxfordshire. At the same time, Connect Fibre has scooped a £16.5m deal to cover 6,000 premises in North East Staffordshire.

Just to recap. Project Gigabit aims to extend 1Gbps (download) capable networks to reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025, before hopefully achieving “nationwide” coverage (c. 99%) by around 2030 (here). Commercial investment is expected to deliver more than 80% of this, which leaves the government’s scheme to focus on tackling the final 20% (mostly rural and some sub-urban areas), where the private sector alone often fails. The project is technology neutral, so it can be delivered via either “full fibreFTTP, Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) or fixed wireless access (e.g. 5G) – but FTTP is strongly favoured.

NOTE: c. 80% of UK premises can already access gigabit speeds (58% via just FTTP) – detail.

The project uses a number of different methods to tackle this challenge (e.g. vouches and investment in dark fibre builds), but the largest part of the scheme involves a gap-funded subsidy approach – the Gigabit Infrastructure Subsidy (GIS). This is where smaller local or larger regional contracts are awarded to network operators and ISPs who can help to build their gigabit-capable infrastructure across the final 20%.

The Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency, which manages this programme, has already awarded a string of initial rollout contracts to various operators – across various parts of the UK (see bottom of article for a summary), but today’s news reflects the first new awards they’ve announced since July 2023. We’re expecting a few more announcements to follow close behind.

The New Project Gigabit Contracts

The biggest of today’s two contracts has seen Gigaclear win £26.5m of public investment to extend their Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to cover an additional 10,000 premises in hard-to-reach parts of Oxfordshire, including communities such as Stoke Row, Somerton and North Aston, among others.

The deal actually reflects two Project Gigabit contracts – South Oxfordshire (Lot 13.01 – c.6,500 premises) and North Oxfordshire (Lot 13.02 – 4,900 premises), which should complement the provider’s existing commercial £84m investment across the whole of Oxfordshire.

However, we hope Gigaclear will do a better job of this than they did with their some of their previous BDUK contracts, which suffered from significant delays and a few even ended up being cancelled (e.g. Devon and Somerset). BDUK will have hopefully made extra sure that the mistakes of the past, which occurred under different leadership, are not going to be repeated.

Next up, Connect Fibre has scooped the £16.5m North East Staffordshire (Lot 19.01) contract, which will see them extend FTTP across around 6,000 premises, including locations such as Longnor, Marchington and Alstonefield, among others. In all cases, the first construction work is expected to get underway by next spring 2024 (i.e. after the usual engineering surveys have completed).

Sir John Whittingdale, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said:

“We want to make sure that no matter where you live or work, everyone has access to reliable internet which is why we’re spending billions to upgrade local networks. In rural Oxfordshire and North East Staffordshire, thousands will experience the positive impact fast and reliable broadband has as their connectivity improves, supporting households and businesses, fostering growth and boosting productivity.”

Gigaclear CEO, Gareth Williams, said:

“I welcome the award of these contracts as they reinforce the important role Gigaclear is playing in helping the Government achieve its wider broadband roll-out ambitions. We’ve already invested more than £70 million to extend our network across many of the county’s rural communities and once these contracts have been delivered, Gigaclear will have provided a new Gigabit fibre connection to more than 85,000 rural Oxfordshire residents and businesses.”

Connect Fibre CEO, Stefan Stanislawski, said:

“Connect Fibre is incredibly proud and honoured to be awarded the Project Gigabit contract to deliver full fibre broadband to the Staffordshire Moorlands and beyond. Delivering real, reliable broadband will change the lives of people living in rural areas and the region as a whole.

“With our smart farming programme and free gigabit connections for community learning and library sites, our commitment to supporting the community goes beyond just broadband. We are excited to embark on this journey and look forward to witnessing the positive impact it will have on residents in the region.”

We should point out that the Infracapital and Equitix backed Gigaclear, which is being supported by investment worth around £1.1bn, has so far already covered 500,000 premises (430k Ready for Service) across 25 counties in England, and they hold an ambition to cover “over” 1 million premises by 2027.

By comparison, Connect Fibre is a smaller player that, with support from the Foresight Group (here), aspires to cover 100,000 premises across the East of England. Suffice to say that this is a particularly big contract win for them, but hopefully they’ll be able to scale up and deliver on it. Further details should follow once the final rollout plan has been decided for all of today’s contracts.

The new Project Gigabit contracts come as Building Digital UK (BDUK) reports that, so far, a total of 929,700 premises in mostly hard-to-reach areas of the UK now have access to gigabit connectivity thanks to government investment. This includes 162,600 premises that have been added in the past year. The overall total includes 204k premises from vouchers, while 731k premises were in areas that previously only had sub-30Mbps speeds.

Project Gigabit GIS Contract Awards History
Wessex Internet for North Dorset (Lot 14.01) in August 2022 (here)
➤ GoFibre for Teesdale (Lot 4.01) in September 2022 (here)
➤ GoFibre for North Northumberland (Lot 34.01) in October 2022 (here)
Fibrus for Cumbria (Lot 28) in November 2022 (here)
➤ Wildanet for Central Cornwall (Lot 32.03) and South West Cornwall (Lot 32.02) in January 2023 (here)
CityFibre for Cambridgeshire (Lot 5) in March 2023 (here)
Wessex Internet for the New Forest (Lot 27.01) in April 2023 (here)
➤ Freedom Fibre for North Shropshire (Lot 25.02) in May 2023 (here)
CityFibre for Norfolk (Lot 7), Suffolk (Lot 2) and Hampshire (Lot 27) in July 2023 (here)
➤ Gigaclear for South Oxfordshire (Lot 13.01) and North Oxfordshire (Lot 13.02) in Nov 2023
➤ Connect Fibre for North East Staffordshire (Lot 19.01) in Nov 2023

UPDATE 27th Nov 2023 @ 5:30pm

We’ve had a few extra details on Gigaclear’s contract. More than 40 rural communities across north and south Oxfordshire are set to benefit including Ardington, Uffington, Binfield Heath, Begbroke, Duns Tew and North Aston. Survey work will now get underway with build due to begin in spring, 2024. Gigaclear plans to use 68% PIA (existing infrastructure such as poles and ducting) to speed up delivery and reduce disruption. The work is scheduled to be completed by autumn, 2026.

The full list of communities set to benefit are:

East and West Hendred, Ardington, East Ginge, Uffington, Nuneham Courtney, Baldon Row, Tiddington, Milton Common, Tetsworth, Postcombe, Sydenham, Pyrton, Britwell Salome, Nettlebed, Stoke Row, Checkendon, Goring Heath, Chalkhouse Green, Binfield Heath, Stoner, Maidensgrove, Christmas Common, Begbroke, Hampton Poyle, Wendlebury, Merton, Stratton Audley, Bucknell, Fewcott, Ardley, Middleton Stoney, Fritwell, Somerton, Lower Heyford, Caulcott, Duns Tew, North Aston, Nether Westcote, Church Westcote, Bledington, Hornton, Horley, Hanwell, Broughton, Wykeham, North Newington.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
10 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    Interestingly, North Aston and Somerton are only 2 miles or so from Deddington which was one of the first places BT deployed FTTP to and is due to be one of the first to have its exchange closed.

  2. Avatar photo DL says:

    Stoke Row can’t be *that* hard to reach, Openreach have already covered half of it (I assume under an earlier phase of BDUK). Quite why they only covered the East side I have no idea. By eyeballing the CBTs take-up seems pretty strong.

  3. Avatar photo Chris says:

    & Yet the North East which was due to be awarded back in May, still no signs.

    1. Avatar photo Joe says:

      I believe that’s had some issues during to the commercial build updated in the area

  4. Avatar photo Zed says:

    On what basis are contracts awarded? Looks like the value is already decided at time of tender. What are the criteria? Does anyone know whether there are many bidders? Are Openreach not bidding?

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      A few of the facts can be garnered if you delve into government contract portals, but even so the decision process is opaque, and the information as to what is to be delivered by when and at what cost is very poor indeed. Far too much is hidden away by the misuse of FOI rules, but you didn’t expect anything else from government, surely?

    2. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      The criteria don’t include anything like “not to have rooked us before” otherwise Gigaclear would have been told to sling their hook, nor “must have experience of building at similar scale”, otherwise Connect would not have been a winner.

      I suspect that the number and quality of bids is poor, but because BDUK have been instructed to let these contracts, they’ve got to do that. Whilst the logical and cheapest route would have been to pay Openreach to upgrade rural areas, the government are obsessed by the magical benefit of competition. Competition is great there are the conditions for a healthy market, but once in a lifetime rural telecoms upgrades do not create such a market. The bid process is complicated, the balance of reward and penalties is invisible, and the likely outcome is delays, failures and under-delivery, with the tax payer never seeing their money again.

  5. Avatar photo Anon says:

    Why are people struggling with this? Every time one of these contracts go out, they publish the full terms and conditions alongside the scoring guidance on the publicly available portal.

    As for Openreach, the announced over a year ago that they weren’t interested in any of these contracts as the terms were too strict. They can’t force them to bid for this work!

  6. Avatar photo DaveisDead says:

    Wonder whats happened to Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and East of Berkshire (Lot 26)? Was estimated to have been awarded June>Sept 23 but still no word. As it’s the second largest award I guess they need to make sure they get it right but it’s still going to be years before we get a sniff of fibre round these parts 🙁

  7. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    While I don’t agree with public money being spent on broadband, at least one thing, it is not openreach.

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