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Gigabit broadband: First areas to benefit announced

The government has announced the first stages of its plans to get ultra-fast broadband to the majority of homes in the UK.

Originally it had promised to roll out gigabit-speed broadband to every home in Britain by 2025 but that was reduced to 85% coverage in November.

The budget remains at £5bn – but only £1.2bn of that will be made available up to 2024.

The infrastructure build should start in 2022, the government said.

The first to benefit will be homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley.

The next areas are expected to be Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

A former voucher scheme is also being relaunched to provide more immediate help to those struggling with poor broadband coverage, with up to £210m being made available.

It is expected that commercial deployments of gigabit-capable fibre networks will reach more than 70% of premises by the end of 2025, without government intervention.

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The government has said that reaching the final 1% of homes in very remote areas could be prohibitively expensive.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Project Gigabit as “the rocket boost that we need to get lightning-fast broadband to all areas of the country”.

The trade organisation techUK has also welcomed the news.

Yesterday BT said it would “build like fury” to roll out full-fibre internet connections, following new rules announced by the UK’s telecoms regulator Ofcom.

Analysis box by Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

The major broadband networks have been pressing the government to make clear how it planned to allocate the public money it’s set aside for Project Gigabit, so they’ll be relieved to get some detail.

But it’s still clear that the plan to put rural Britain in the broadband fast lane is behind schedule.

At the 2019 election, the manifesto promise was to give every home and business a Gigabit connection by the end of 2025. Last November that target was cut to 85% of premises, with just £1.2bn available in the short term.

Now that money is beginning to flow, but with Openreach’s chief executive emphasising the need for speedy decisions, it seems there’s not complete confidence that even the more limited target will be hit.

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