Since they were first announced, the UK government’s ambitions for spreading the reach of gigabit broadband across the country have been scaled back and criticised for their pace of development. However, more than 5,000 public buildings, including schools, hospitals and libraries, have now been connected to high-speed broadband.
Also, other vital local services, including leisure centres, tourist destinations and youth centres, across the UK can now access internet speeds at least 10 times faster than their old mostly copper-based connections. The government said this means doctors and police officers will save time waiting for large files such as x-rays and CCTV footage to download, teachers can make better use of digital technologies to bring their lessons to life, and care home residents can get better access to online services for improving their health and wellbeing.
The upgrades, which the government says was made possible by a £164m investment, are seen as being able to drive up productivity in public services, create better experiences for people who use them and encourage broadband companies to easily extend the network to thousands of surrounding homes and businesses.
The move to connect public buildings is part of the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme, which was launched five years ago to subsidise the cost of full-fibre broadband connections in publicly owned buildings. It has delivered 2,700km of lightning-fast full fibre, including upgrades to 1,262 schools and colleges, 348 libraries, 53 hospitals, 658 health centres including GP surgeries, 627 council-owned offices, 222 community centres, 155 leisure centres and 201 fire and ambulance stations.
The upgrades are spread right across the UK. In England, this includes 742 public buildings in Greater Manchester, 328 in North Yorkshire and 309 in Norfolk. More than 500 public buildings in Wales and 350 in Scotland have been connected, including libraries, care homes and youth centres in North Wales and schools, health centres and fire stations across Shetland, the Highlands, Angus and Perth & Kinross in Scotland.
The UK government has also invested £133m in Scotland to connect more than 740,000 homes and businesses to superfast speeds – in excess of 30Mbps – and £69m to roll out superfast broadband to more than 740,000 homes and businesses in Wales, of which at least 110,000 will get gigabit upgrades.
Government-funded projects in Northern Ireland, backed by more than £25m UK government investment, have delivered connections to more than 900 buildings. These include 240 GP surgeries, 148 community centres, 90 council offices, 79 recycling centres, 69 fire stations and 63 leisure centres. Gigabit-capable coverage in Northern Ireland has hit 85%, which is the highest of all four UK nations.
The news comes as the UK government called on broadband companies to submit bids to connect about 190,000 hard-to-reach premises in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cornwall as part of Project Gigabit, with work set to kick off in these regions from January 2023.
Under Project Gigabit, the government aims to deliver next-generation gigabit broadband to more than a million homes and businesses in what are regarded as hard-to-reach places in the first phase of an infrastructure project into which the government has invested £5bn.
The government claims that Project Gigabit will accelerate the country’s recovery from Covid-19, fire up high-growth sectors such as tech and the creative industries, and level up the country, spreading wealth and creating jobs across Britain and will fire up the economy by injecting a £60bn boost to productivity. It says the projects it funds will prioritise areas that currently have slow connections and would otherwise have been left behind in broadband companies’ roll-out plans.
In an update to progress, the government confirmed that there are now contracts worth a total of £543m for telecoms firms to bid for which are expected to connect up to 380,000 hard-to-reach homes and businesses. The first contracts will be awarded from August this year, connecting up to 510,000 homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley. More gigabit contracts will be released in the coming months, with Devon, Somerset, West and North Yorkshire all set to launch over the next year.
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