UK government allocates £95 million for 13 local full-fibre broadband projects in first wave of funding

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The UK government’s Spring Statement 2018 has revealed the first wave of allocated funding under its Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) scheme – which was announced within the Autumn Budget – providing more than £95 million for 13 areas across the UK.

These areas are to include: Armagh City, (including Banbridge & Craigavon), Belfast, Blackpool, Cambridgeshire, Cardiff, Coventry (including Solihull & Warwickshire), The Highlands, London, Manchester, Mid Sussex, North Yorkshire, Portsmouth, and Wolverhampton, which have all been announced as successful bidders for the £95 million.

LFFN is a £190 million government capital grant programme under the £31 billion National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF). It aims to leverage local and commercial investment in full-fibre across the whole of the UK landscape via funding a series of projects that seek to stimulate the market by making the deployment of gigabit-capable full-fibre infrastructure more commercially viable.

Successful projects include using hospitals, health centres and GP surgeries as ‘anchor tenants’ - providing a full-fibre ‘hub’ to which surrounding homes and businesses can then be connected. Schools, libraries and emergency response buildings will also be upgraded to gigabit-capable full-fibre connections, whilst the strategic re-purposing of existing infrastructure, will allow full-fibre to be rolled out at a fraction of what it would otherwise cost. Creating ‘fibre spines’ along major transport routes and public building networks, meanwhile, will extend a supplier’s fibre footprint, making full-fibre connections more available to surrounding homes and businesses.

The move follows the government’s recent announcement that it had delivered on its manifesto commitment to extend superfast broadband to 95 per cent of homes by the end of 2017. The next phase, as outlined in the Autumn Statement, saw a pledge to make at least a further £1 billion available for investment in digital infrastructure under the NPIF. Of this, £740 million is to be used to stimulate the roll out of fibre networks and support 5G mobile connectivity trials (see Policy shift sees the UK start on a full-fibre diet).

The government also recently confirmed its plans to deliver broadband speeds of at least 10Mb/s by 2020 to everyone, via a regulatory universal service obligation (USO) (see UK government rejects BT's voluntary USO proposal), and launched a voucher scheme for a small or medium sized businesses and residents, to help with the costs of connecting to full-fibre broadband (see UK government launches £67 million Gigabit broadband voucher scheme).

The next wave is likely to open in Summer 2018.

Matthew Hare, chief executive at Gigaclear, has responded to the announcement. He said: ‘It’s encouraging to see the Government pledge to improve the UK’s digital connectivity in the Spring Budget, with full-fibre front and centre. We are finally seeing the Government and the wider telecoms industry prioritising investment to roll out the necessary infrastructure. However, I urge the Government to progress at pace. The additional funding is a step in the right direction, but I would like to see a plan to connect every property in the UK to future-proofed, full-fibre broadband in the not-to-distant future. This is the only way we can guarantee the future of the UK’s digital economy.’

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