The UK Gigabit Programme or ‘Project Gigabit’ is a £5 billion government infrastructure project to enable and deliver fast, reliable digital connectivity for the UK. The prime objective of the programme is to deliver ‘gigabit’ broadband to those areas of the country that are commercially unviable for broad-band infrastructure suppliers to build to without public funding.
Project Gigabit is a follow-up programme to the ‘Superfast Broadband Programme’ but is subtly different. Previous broadband infrastructure procurements were undertaken by Shropshire Council. In Project Gigabit, Building Digital UK (BDUK) will be responsible for procurements, contracts and supplier management. Shropshire Council will remain integral to the process but will no longer manage the relationship with the broadband infrastructure suppliers.
Since 2013, Shropshire Council’s Connecting Shropshire broadband programme has worked alongside BDUK to provide improved broadband connectivity across the Shropshire Council area. Since 2014, coverage of superfast broadband has increased from 24% to 98%.
Positively, Shropshire is included in Phase 1b of Project Gigabit.
BDUK are now mobilising Project Gigabit but it will take some time before work commences in Shropshire. Before contracts can be awarded, a procurement process needs to be undertaken. In advance of the procurement it is important that a review of the current marketplace for broadband is undertaken. This has to take place to ensure that public funding is only used in those areas where there is market failure.
Open Market Review (OMR)
In March/April 2021 BDUK undertook an Open Market Review inviting broadband infrastructure suppliers to provide information about their current/planned coverage in Shropshire. BDUK will use OMR responses to inform the size and scale of the intervention areas (where public funding can be used) for its Project Gigabit procurements in Shropshire.
BDUK will be seeking views from the public and other stakeholders with regard to existing or planned commercial gigabit-capable broadband in areas open for public review. All areas currently open for public review can be found on the UK Gigabit Programme: public reviews webpage.
The Shropshire Public Review period closed on 20 September 2021.
The current expectation is that the procurement process will be launched in Spring 2022 and contracts awarded in early 2023.