Local authorities are able to bid for a share of a further £95million that has been released by the UK government towards full fibre rollout.
Last year saw more than £1billion of funding made available to stimulate faster roll-out of full fibre networks, and drive the next generation of mobile connectivity. As part of this, the £190million Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Challenge Fund was launched to boost commercial investment in networks across the whole of the UK. This programme is part of the expanded £31billion National Productivity Investment Fund aimed at improving productivity, which is key to raising living standards. This fund has already earmarked £740million specifically for improving Britain’s digital infrastructure, ensuring the UK is match-fit for the future as part of our modern industrial strategy.
Following the first two rounds of grant funding (see UK government allocates £95million for 13 local full-fibre broadband projects in first wave of funding), a new process has been designed to allocate the remaining £95million from the Local Full Fibre Networks Challenge Fund, as Minister for Digital, Margot James explained: ‘We recently set out our ambition for a nationwide full-fibre broadband network by 2033, and initiatives like this will be instrumental in achieving that. We want to hear from any local authority interested in taking part, so we can work closely with them on their plans to help them secure funding.’
Successful projects in this round of funding will help enable gigabit capable connections to key public buildings and businesses and also encourage broadband providers to create additional connections to local homes and businesses. The final decision will be made by the Local Full Fibre Networks Investment Panel, which will assess the proposals, placing particular importance on a number of areas, including rural focus; 5G or Barrier Busting; Public Sector Productivity; and Market Development.
The news release issued by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport states that there is no fixed date for formal submissions. Interested local authorities are instead invited to submit an informal ‘expression of interest’.
Manuel Mato, vice president of EMEA at VIAVI Solutions has issued a response to the announcement. He said: ‘The UK is lagging behind the rest of Europe - and much of the world - in the race to high-speed internet. Globally, the UK is now #22 out of 49 countries with respect to gigabit connectivity, lagging behind countries such as Moldova and Hungary, according to our own research. Ultra-fast internet will be a key driver for growth and jobs in the UK. A key consideration, however, will be ensuring that these networks to perform reliably and seamlessly.’
Open access Gigabit fibre provider VXFIBER has also responded, with the publication of a digital masterplan to assist local authorities. The plan consists of nine sequential stages for a local body to consider in its installation and rollout plans for a prospective network.
Richard Watts, VXFIBER’s head of business development, explained: ‘Local Authorities are the custodians of the UK’s regional economic and social development. They have responsibility for a broad range of issues: local infrastructure, housing, social inclusion, job creation, attracting investment, education, health and other public services - these all come under the remit of a local authority or district council. Digital is set to play an increasingly significant role in each of these areas. A local authority’s development plans must have a properly thought-out digital strategy to support it.’