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Gov Expanding Gigabit Broadband Vouchers to UK Urban Areas

Wednesday, May 15th, 2024 (12:01 am) - Score 1,040
Car traffic light trail on city road

Sources have informed ISPreview that the Government’s Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency has decided to extend the availability of their Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS) to include urban areas. The scheme has, until now, only offered grants to help rural properties get a 1Gbps capable ISP connection installed.

The GBVS currently offers grants worth up to £4,500 to rural homes and businesses to help them get a gigabit-capable broadband service installed, which is available to areas with speeds of “less than 100Mbps” – assuming there are also no future plans for a gigabit deployment in the same area (either via private investment or state-aid). Some Local Authorities (LA) have, in the past, also provided top-up funding to boost the voucher values.

NOTE: The GBVS is currently being supported by an investment of £210m via the wider £5bn Project Gigabit programme. Since 2017, over 118,000 vouchers have been used to fund a connection so far through the current and previous voucher schemes.

However, over the past year the GBVS has become somewhat diminished in its capacity to assist in rural areas, which is largely intended to avoid duplication of public investment with the wider Gigabit Infrastructure Subsidy (GIS) programme (i.e. awarding large state aid funded broadband deployments, for rural areas, to specific suppliers). As a result, the GBVS is currently suspended across much of the UK.

GBVS Availability Map

Project-Gigabit-Voucher-Availability-Map

Despite this, we recently reported that the voucher scheme had been extended to run up to March 2028 (here). On top of that, BDUK is also known to have been exploring how the Project Gigabit programme could be expanded to help tackle poorly served urban areas (here), which can often sit neglected as patches of poor service, typically dotted about like small islands inside major cities and towns.

The latter problem can be caused by all sorts of challenges (e.g. high build costs, issues with securing wayleave / access and permits or road closures etc.), while state aid and competition law often make it difficult to use public funding in such areas (i.e. locations where private investment should be able to resolve without intervention).

The easiest solution to the legal and competition dilemma has typically been to use a voucher scheme, which was tried before and eventually morphed into today’s more rural-focused scheme. But the latest development appears to confirm that BDUK are going to give this approach another bash.

Gigabit Vouchers for Urban Areas

At present, the details of this are still subject to change, but our sources have informed us that the plan seems to involve a “soft launch” in June 2024 that will expand the voucher scheme into urban areas and run for about 10-weeks. The initial focus will be on 11 as yet unspecified areas, which are understood to contain a total of approximately 15,000 initial eligible premise.

The BDUK agency will spend the rest of this month conducting various market engagement work in order to help finalise their policy and assess how much interest might exist, as well as to identify any potential barriers that could hamper such builds.

As before, the aim of this expansion is to connect both businesses and residents to gigabit-capable broadband in urban areas, where there is no existing coverage, planned commercial coverage or coverage through other Project Gigabit schemes. The same voucher values (£4,500) and timescales as exist today will continue to apply (i.e. successful voucher projects must be delivered within just 12-months).

A DSIT spokesperson told ISPreview:

“We are committed to delivering lightning-fast gigabit broadband to communities across the UK, particularly to those who are hard to reach and not included in current commercial rollout plans.”

Assuming all goes to plan and there’s enough demand for urban gigabit vouchers, then BDUK will look to introduce phased extensions to the scheme from around September 2024. As usual, this expansion will be both demand-led and based on evidence.

Overall, we think this is a positive development, although it remains to be seen whether expanding the voucher scheme in this way will be enough to overcome some of the complex challenges that building in the remaining urban pockets of poor connectivity can often present (it’s not always a money problem).

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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
8 Responses
  1. Avatar photo V says:

    Why don’t they provide everyone with a list of eligible premises?

  2. Avatar photo James says:

    Are they doing this by the unique property number or Postcode level?

  3. Avatar photo Steve says:

    how does it work on the eligability having gigabit or whatever available?
    what I mean is, I live in an area where the choice is either VDSL2 at 60mbit, or Virgin Media. Obviously VM can deliver 1Gbps but I don’t want VM. I currently have VDSL2, so do I qualify given that I have < 100mbit DSL even though Virgin Media is available to me?

    Or is it a case of well you could have gigabit, you just don't like the provider so no voucher?

    1. Avatar photo CJ says:

      “Or is it a case of well you could have gigabit, you just don’t like the provider so no voucher?”

      Yes, this. The same applies to public subsidy under a Project Gigabit.contract.

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      would probably hinge on what the upload speed requirement is, if there is any, as their HFC offer is not likely to cut it.

      A quick google suggests that for subsidised rollouts, they expect bids of least 1G down and 200Mbit up (so yes even Openreach would be compliant), but I’m far too lazy to work out if that is also the criteria for deciding to offer a subsidy.

    3. Avatar photo Stuart says:

      It’s actually even worse than that – if a Project Gigabit contract has been awarded in your county, all the properties in that county become ineligible for broadband vouchers, regardless of whether or not they will actually benefit from the contract.

      We are in this situation – the Project Gigabit contract was awarded to CityFibre (Norfolk) but we’re not included in their build plan, so we won’t benefit from CityFibre’s rollout but we also can’t use a voucher even though there is no fibre here.

      It’s utterly ridiculous.

    4. Avatar photo - says:

      There is no formal upload speed required if you’ve already got 1Gb down; virgin media definitely precludes vouchers in rural GBVS, I’d be astonished if this is any different.

      They expect 200Mb up, and guess what openreach offer, oh yes, 200Mb, what a nice convenient coincidence. I think it’s deeply unfortunate they didn’t say 1G down, 500Mb up as that would not have excluded GPON based solutions (so nothing would have cost the tax payer, or ISP any more) and it would of forced openreach to offer a 1000/500 package.

  4. Avatar photo Peter Delaney says:

    Property eligibility is decided by BDUK at the property level, largely based on what other public money has already been utilised.

    Up until a couple of months back, BDUK had a webpage that allowed you to enter your address to see if it was eligible or not.

    Since then it has been replaced by a list of suppliers for you to tout yourself.

    The change was probably triggered because almost nobody can apply for vouchers now whilst so many regional procurements are in progress.

    A supplier needs to register a voucher project with BDUK before people can start claiming voucher funds against it. In reality, the supplier handles most of the paperwork. Once the supplier has reached you, BDUK will ask you to confirm you have service and are happy with it after which voucher funding is released to the supplier.

    This is a fair bit of work for a supplier and they really aren’t going to do it unless the numbers stack up. I’m guessing here, but perhaps anything less than a patch of a couple of dozen properties isn’t going to work unless the reason they weren’t reached in the first place is very easy (or very inexpensive) to resolve. In the end, backhaul is king and unless is can be got to you at a price that makes sense, getting interest from a supplier might be difficult even with the subsidy.

    So, if you are in an urban patch that wants gigabit, form a group with your neighbours, find a supplier, and be prepared for a long wait whilst eligibility is resolved, building is planned and pre-registered packages are submitted. Good luck with that.

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