The digital infrastructure minister has warned that towns and villages are ‘missing out’ on superfast broadband and urges them to apply for £70 million of government funding.
Matt Warman is encouraging rural communities to apply for high-speed broadband grants and take the opportunity to move out of ‘the digital slow lane’. The vouchers provide up to £1,500 for homes and up to £3,500 for businesses to cover the cost of companies installing faster internet.
He said that without doubt the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated to many how essential good internet connectivity is to the modern economy and society at large. This is why the Government has spent almost £2 billion since 2015 connecting more than 96pc of the population to superfast broadband.
The focus now is on future-proofing the UK’s internet networks with newer broadband capable of providing gigabit download speeds of 1,000 megabits per second. These connections will not only support the use of smarter devices such as intelligent heating systems and internet-connected fridges, but also enable consumers to download HD films in seconds.
The minister recently pointed out that there are still towns and villages suffering from the disadvantage of digital slow speeds and he urged countryside communities to join together to apply for and make use of vouchers worth in excess of £70 million which are available now.
Broadband vouchers targeted at rural areas
In the past two years alone, almost 500,000 homes and businesses have been connected to gigabit-capable broadband, as part of a £1 billion government funding commitment. Around 45,000 vouchers, worth more than £90 million in total, have been issued to subsidise the cost of providing faster broadband across the UK.
The vouchers so far have been targeted at rural areas unlikely to be connected through commercial enterprise. For example, homes and businesses in Somerset have been issued with more than 3,500 broadband vouchers, with almost 2,000 in Cumbria and more than 1,000 in Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Lancashire and West Yorkshire.
Speaking of the investment, Mr Warman said it had resulted in the formation of smaller, more flexible broadband providers across the UK. Firms such as Wessex Internet in Dorset are laying fibre cables directly to people’s homes as an alternative to older and slower copper-based networks.
This work, he added, will play a significant role in the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Furthermore, the Government will invest another £5 billion to ensure that rural areas benefit from this much faster connectivity at the same time as urban areas over the next few years.
In the UK, a total of 227 market towns and villages are in line to receive full fibre broadband within the next 14 months.
Broadband will level up the country
The Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn will set out how this extra money will be spent.
A number of options are being considered which could include a mix of open procurements in line with the model for superfast broadband rollout; direct funding to connect public buildings such as schools and GP surgeries; as well as a continuation of the gigabit broadband vouchers.
Mr Warman is also involved in setting up a task force to determine how to encourage more people to take advantage of the opportunities broadband offers.
Commenting on the advantages, he said faster internet would liberate rural communities by giving residents the freedom to live and work more flexibly. More importantly, it would help to level up the country and transform it into a fairer and more equal society where anyone, regardless of background and postcode, can thrive and succeed.
Faster internet also promises superior online entertainment, effortless shopping and the means to keep in touch with friends and family.
PM Boris Johnson had previously promised to achieve full coverage of superfast broadband by 2025. However, Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach, BT’s infrastructure division, warned last week that the proposals could result in a ‘bureaucratic car crash’.
He explained that the complexity of the Government’s plans could slow down the project, saying initial plans could see more than 1,000 contracts being taken out by providers.