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BDUK Publish Evaluations of UK Gigabit Broadband Programmes

Thursday, Dec 14th, 2023 (12:51 pm) - Score 1,200

The Government’s executive Building Digital UK agency has today published a series of reports that evaluate different parts of their gigabit and full fibre broadband upgrade programmes, albeit broadly all focused on dark fibre style deployments to connect public sector sites (e.g. schools, council offices, hospitals etc.).

The reports are primarily focused on both the earlier state aid (initially £200m) supported Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme and the follow-on Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) Hubs programme. Both held the aim of helping to spread Gigabit (1000Mbps+) class fibre connections by connecting public sector sites, albeit via different approaches.

The LFFN idea was simple enough. On the one hand, the public sites (or anchor tenants) would benefit from faster and more cost-effective infrastructure. But on the other hand, they could also make that fibre available to broadband ISPs and network operators in the private sector further down the line (i.e. if they wanted or needed to, this new fibre could optionally be used to help further expand commercial gigabit-speed networks to reach local homes and businesses, albeit via additional private investment).

The RGC Hubs programme followed this same mould, albeit being more tightly focused on rural areas, particularly enhancing connectivity to schools (i.e. 605 of the 1021 sites were schools). The three new reports look at all of these and are sadly quite a laborious read and on an already exceptionally busy day (I simply don’t have the time to go through them in detail), but we’ve attempted to pick out a few choice highlights below.

BDUK’s New Reports

BDUK school benefit survey results

This survey examined the impact of gigabit broadband upgrades for schools under the RGC Hubs scheme. Overall it found that 88% of respondents were fairly or very satisfied with the speed of the new connection, while 82% said the same about reliability and this fell to 71% on the ‘value for money’ guage.

Local Full Fibre Networks Programme wave one final evaluation

This report, and its sub-reports, looked at the first wave of the LFFN programme, such as the projects in West sussex, Tameside, the Trans Pennine Initiative and also the connectivity for schools.

Key Findings

– One of the key findings across the projects was importance of early planning in ensuring civil engineering work could take place as anticipated. Instances where early planning proved beneficial included applying for wayleaves, exploring the route, and engagement with beneficiaries.

– There is mixed evidence on how successful the projects have been in making their areas more commercially viable to network providers. For all four projects, there is evidence that the delivery of the project has helped to support the further use of a commercial vehicle or mechanisms.

– There is evidence that gigabit-capable and ultrafast coverage has increased in all areas that the LFFN wave one projects have operated in. There is also evidence that take-up of ultrafast connections has also increased in these areas. However, the evaluation cannot conclude that the projects other than Trans Pennine Initiative have had an additional impact on gigabit-capable coverage up to 2022 in the areas within 1km of the project network build. Due to the late completion of most of the projects though, the impacts may be generated in the future.

– There is evidence that all the projects have led to public sector cost savings, and that the LFFN wave one projects have contributed to these savings. These are both direct and indirect cost savings. Examples of the cost savings include: direct savings from a reduced cost of connections and maintenance in Tameside, and public sector buildings receiving a better broadband connection for the same price as they were previously paying in West Sussex and in Schools; and indirect cost savings from reduction in the resources required to undertake administrative tasks and a reduction in other outgoings, such as the telephone costs, which can now be provided through the broadband connection.

– The findings from the evaluation indicate that there are some challenges to be addressed in delivering demand led broadband interventions. These interventions appear to be successful in achieving the public sector outcomes and impacts, however they appear to have struggled so far, to 2022, to provide additional gigabit-capable networks in the local area, above what would have happened in the absence of the projects. This limits the longer term benefits the projects have been able to generate in terms of economic, social and environmental impacts to 2022.

– Additionally, it appears that there are challenges associated with setting up new commercial vehicles to deliver gigabit-capable connectivity. The Trans Pennine Initiative project experienced issues in being able to sell connectivity as Network Rail due to price constraints and a lack of track record in delivering fibre connectivity. The Tameside PSAR project has seen similar challenges around Service Level Agreements which may have contributed to the absence of additional impact in gigabit-capable coverage in Tameside.

BDUK Rural Gigabit Connectivity Hubs Evaluation

Key Findings

– There is evidence that the Hub investments have increased broadband availability and uptake around the connected public buildings

– Awareness of the Hub investments was relatively low among residents living near Hubs, but there was some evidence of community-led take-up schemes around the Hubs. Residents near Hubs were more likely to cite being part of a community initiative as motivation for getting better broadband.

– Businesses near Hubs experienced similar benefits to those seen more widely in the voucher scheme used to subsidise individual connections, like adopting new sales methods.

Overall, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, with both positives and negatives highlighted by the reports.

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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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1 Response
  1. Avatar photo Terry ball says:

    What a mess, was so much better when the local BDUK teams had full control.

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