Digital infrastructureGigabit & FibreRural gigabit connectivity programme kicks off

Rural gigabit connectivity programme kicks off

Rural gigabit connectivity programme will aim to pilot approaches to deploying full fibre internet in rural locations, starting with 31 primary schools

The £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) programme that will see gigabit-enabled full fibre broadband delivered to the most rural and remote parts of the UK, has begun.

Working with the Department for Education, DCMS has identified the first 31 schools eligible for a connection under the scheme. Faster connections will enable whole classes to simultaneously surf the internet on tablets as part of structured lessons, and gives schools easier access to online training and educational learning.

The funding for the programme comes from the government’s National Infrastructure Productivity Fund (NPIF). The NPIF is designed to bolster UK productivity, which is crucial to raising living standards. Through the NPIF, the government is investing in the vital infrastructure needed to make it easier for people to connect with others, and work remotely and flexibly.

Transformed UK’s digital landscape

Poor connections have a disproportionate impact on residents and communities. When people cannot work from home, pay bills online or run small businesses it is not just the individual who suffers; slow, unreliable connections hamper innovation, stop collaboration between groups and make it harder for local economies and communities to thrive.

At present a little more than 7% of homes and businesses across the United Kingdom can access a Gigabit (1Gbps+) speed capable full fibre (FTTP / FTTH) broadband network and the government wants to see 10 million premises covered by the end of 2022, rising to 15 million by 2025. The government aspires to deliver a nationwide full-fibre to the premises network by 2033.

Jeremy Wright said: “Our decision to tackle some of the hardest to reach places first is a significant shift in Government policy and will be instrumental in delivering our plans for a nationwide full fibre broadband network by 2033. Our rollout of superfast broadband transformed the UK’s digital landscape, and our modern Industrial Strategy is focused on investing in the infrastructure that will make Britain fit for the future.”

The Exchequer Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “We want everyone across the country to have access to fibre broadband connections no matter where they live. We’ve set a target of having 15 million premises able to connect to full fibre by 2025 with a nationwide network by 2033 and committed to ensuring the most rural areas aren’t left behind. This investment enables communities that have not previously benefited from broadband to leapfrog to the most advanced fibre technology – boosting productivity and enhancing quality of life.”

The number of premises unable to receive decent broadband halved from four per cent to two per cent at the end of 2018, according to regulator Ofcom, which considers a download speed of 10 Mbit/s and an upload speed of 1 Mbit/s the reasonable minimum speed.

‘Outside In’ approach

The Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) programme is the first step in the ‘Outside In’ approach to ensure rural areas are not left behind in full-fibre broadband deployments. An ‘Outside In’ approach is being taken to make sure rural areas are not disadvantaged in the race for full fibre broadband.

This approach will help reach 10 percent of UK premises, identified by the government last year as unlikely to receive gigabit-capable connections from commercial networks by 2033, at the same time as commercial roll-outs.

RGC was originally announced during the 2018 Budget and aims to build new ultrafast broadband ISP networks by focusing on helping to connect rural areas.

The RGC programme also has a rural gigabit broadband voucher component, offering up to £3,500 for small businesses and up to £1,500 for residents. This will be offered to encourage greater take-up of gigabit-capable connectivity to residents and businesses in rural areas.

There will also be opportunities to explore other ways of rolling out gigabit capable connectivity in rural and hard-to-reach areas using the approach.

Decommissioning of the school’s local servers

The RGC Programme will trial a model connecting local hubs in rural areas, starting with primary schools in Cumbria, Cornwall, Pembrokeshire and Northumberland. Additional sites in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the rest of England will be announced in the coming months.

A ‘Hub’ is a public sector building, which is deemed to be eligible for intervention and aligns with qualifying criteria set by the Government’s Building Digital UK (BDUK). The approach would involve upgrading an eligible rural public sector building with gigabit-capable connectivity.

The benefit of this approach will be

  1. It provides a gigabit capable provision to the public building, and therefore an improved public service
  2. The surrounding area can become increasingly viable for commercial intervention, stimulating the market to build more networks in these areas

Access to cloud services not only means savings as staff go paperless, but will also allow the decommissioning of the school’s local servers to reduce hardware, maintenance and IT support costs.

Other public buildings will then be added throughout the course of the programme, for example health sites and community halls.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “In most parts of the country a fast, reliable internet connection is taken for granted – but that is not the case for everyone. This programme will mean that schools in these areas won’t be held back from accessing all of the opportunities the internet has to offer. These first 31 schools will see the tangible benefits that fast broadband has to offer, from reducing teacher and staff workload, to improving access to high-quality learning resources.”

Rebranding BDUK

The RGC programme will complement other BDUK Programmes, but will not overlap with areas where a gigabit-capable solution is already available or will be delivered through these existing interventions.

There are now three programmes delivering full fibre in the UK – Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) programme, Local Full Fibre Networks and Superfast Broadband. These will now all be aligned under one overarching programme called ‘The UK Fibre Programme’. Broadband Delivery UK has now been renamed Building Digital UK, although the BDUK moniker remains the same.

Rural Affairs Minister Lord Gardiner said: “This funding will make sure that rural businesses, homes and communities can get online and make the most of the opportunities digital connectivity provides. I am determined to champion rural communities and drive forward full fibre broadband connections in the most hard to reach areas across the UK, helping to ensure no one living in our countryside is left behind.”

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