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UK publishes T&Cs, readies £800 million for intrepid gigabit broadband suppliers

New subsidy framework aims to reach far flung corners of the UK

The British government is preparing to make £800 million available to intrepid broadband suppliers under a subsidy programme designed to support the build of gigabit broadband infrastructure in far flung corners of the UK "which are unlikely to attract commercial investment" -- publishing terms and conditions for participation in a procurement framework this week as an increasingly active £5 billion fibre rollout project continues.

The public interest notice gives potential suppliers until September 1, 2022 to register interest and follows 121 engagements "with Openreach and other suppliers" who expressed interest in participating. (The UK is working with industry to target a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage by 2025 as part of its £5 billion Project Gigabit and the new framework targets the "hardest to reach parts of the UK" as part of the programme.)

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(Two things to note: 1) Project Gigabit is technology-neutral, so such schemes can use “full fibre” FTTP, Hybrid Fibre Coax (DOCSIS 3.1+) or fixed wireless like 5G to make up the gap in FTTP or other such coverage. 2) The new framework for the "last 20%" is still at the public information notice stage and not a live framework yet...)

The so-called Cross-Regional Framework approach will establish a "Cross-Regional Single Supplier Framework, known colloquially as Type C, to award call-off contracts over the life of the Gigabit Infrastructure Subsidy Programme" the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said on August 18.

Project Gigabit intervention areas, as of May 2022. Credit: DCMS

DCMS is awarding contracts on the Gigabit Infrastructure Subsidy scheme in three ways:

  • "A Dynamic Purchasing System to award contracts for smaller intervention areas of up to 10,000 premises;
  • "A restricted procurement procedure... for larger intervention areas (up to 150,000 premises);
  • "A single supplier framework agreement, designed as a ‘catch all’ for areas of the country where there is no competition, or where procurements have failed through other procurement routes, or where a commitment to a substantially larger scale requirement secures a step-change investment in capacity...

(The DPS allows suppliers to join and leave at any time and has been designed to have low barriers to entry for new and small suppliers in the market, with DCMS taking on a central role in supplier and market management in order to encourage new entrants and maximise competition for the procurements; the restricted procurement procedure allows DCMS to down-select suppliers from the competition through an initial selection questionnaire, the suppliers who meet the criteria at this stage are invited to bid for individual contracts; the "Type C" single supplier framework as sketched out above includes "eligible premises in locations identified with no effective competition, potentially covering a county or multiple counties. The frameworks will also include intervention areas that were not successfully procured through other procurements" DCMS explained in June 2021.)

DCMS noted in Spring that it is now releasing more procurements than originally planned, splitting some regional procurements into smaller local contracts "to reflect suppliers’ commercial plans in these areas and ensure we deliver the targeted intervention needed" -- with efforts seemingly bearing fruit at a good pace.

In January 2022, 70% of urban premises across the UK had access to gigabit-capable connections (up from 39% in Jan 2021), along with 30% of rural premises, up from 19%, while 66% of residential premises and 40% of businesses premises had access to gigabit capability (Ofcom’s Spring 2022 update).

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