The UK’s £5B Project Gigabit gives out first contract to connect rural areas to high-speed broadband – TechCrunch

The first major subsidy contract under the U.K. Government’s £5 billion ($5.9 billion) Project Gigabit scheme has officially been awarded, with Wessex Internet securing £6 million ($7 million) to connect remote properties in South West England to high-speed broadband. 

In a world that has rapidly embraced remote work over the past couple of years, the importance of widespread superfast broadband is perhaps more pronounced than ever. People are no longer concerned purely about stuttering Netflix-streaming, but also maintaining a speedy connection to their work’s virtual workplace through Zoom, Slack, among other cloud applications. However, many homes and businesses — particularly those in rural locations — aren’t suitably served with high-speed internet, putting them at a disadvantage compared to those living in cities and around other major thoroughfares.

While the major internet service providers (ISPs) in the U.K. already provide gigabit-speed internet services to millions of people in urban areas, delivering full fibre-optic broadband to those in more remote locations is often too expensive, in terms of the cost of deploying the infrastructure versus how much they can make back in revenues. And that is why the U.K. Government unveiled Project Gigabit in March 2021 — it’s striving to plug the gaps in these hard-to-reach places, allowing people to work from anywhere, and startups to consider setting up shop away from the usual cities.

Indeed, new figures from Thinkbroadband suggest that 70% of the U.K. currently has access to gigabit internet, but the Government has said that it plans to grow that coverage to 85% by 2025. Project Gigabit subsidies will prove pivotal to those plans.

Levelling up

At its announcement last year, the Government said it was initially targeting more than 1 million homes and businesses, half of which would be in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley. Wessex Internet, an ISP focused on delivering fast broadband to rural areas across Dorset, Wiltshire, and South Somerset, has now been given £6 million to connect 7,000 properties by 2025, with the first home in the region expected to go online under a gigabit connection by the end of 2022.

“The benefits of better broadband connectivity cannot be underestimated and this work will mean those living in rural areas can enjoy 21st century speeds in the home and workplace, making their lives easier and more productive,” U.K. Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries said in a statement.

Today’s announcement is expected to kickstart a handful of similar contracts in the coming months, with $690 million worth of procurements spanning half-a-million premises set to be announced by the end of the year.

The U.K. isn’t the only place where government subsidies are being used to connect remote areas. In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ringfenced $5 billion for rural broadband providers over the coming decade.

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