DCMS blog

Chris Townsend on how we’re taking superfast broadband to the UK’s hardest to reach places

BDUK’s rollout of superfast broadband is transforming lives up and down the country. Current figures show that nearly 9 out of 10 homes and businesses now have access to superfast broadband – homes and businesses that can now take full advantage of a faster internet connection. BDUK’s programmes will raise this to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017.

But we know that we cannot stand still if everyone is to benefit from the modern digital age. Today we’ve published a report on the Emerging Findings from BDUK’s Market Test Pilots (MTPs), a programme that marks a decisive intent by Government to understand more about how superfast broadband can be delivered in some of the UK’s most sparsely populated rural areas.

The Market Test Pilots are seven projects set up to test alternative technologies and commercial and operational models, and to better understand the capabilities of alternative suppliers to BT Openreach and Virgin Media. They were launched in June 2014 and will run to March 2016 with a budget of £8 million.

The seven Pilot projects include Avanti and Satellite Internet, who are using superfast-capable satellite; Airwave, Quickline and AB Internet, who are using fixed wireless; and Call Flow and Cybermoor, who are using a mix of fibre and fixed wireless technologies.

The MTPs are deploying in some of the most challenging areas of the UK – all are in the least dense 2% of homes and businesses in the UK, and the majority of pilot areas are situated far from other towns, which can significantly increase deployment costs.

These challenges make the successes from the pilots so far even more encouraging. They have now been running for over a year and are successfully providing good quality superfast broadband services to hundreds of homes and businesses.

The pilots are already delivering some exciting results. For example, they have shown that:

  • Non-fibre based technology suppliers can deliver reliable, superfast-capable broadband speeds and a quality of broadband service that satisfies the vast majority of customers.
  • Suppliers can successfully mix technologies to deliver cost-effective superfast broadband solutions in hard to reach areas
  • Smaller suppliers can bid for, win and deliver open public procurements at competitive costs, including meeting the necessary EU-wide State aid requirements for receiving public funding.

This last point is crucial: eleven smaller suppliers have now won open procurements for the seven MTPs and nine BDUK superfast broadband contracts. We want smaller suppliers to continue to grow in confidence and compete for the further public contracts being launched this year as part of the BDUK superfast rollout programme. The findings of this report should offer both encouragement and helpful advice to smaller suppliers seeking to roll out commercially or with public subsidy in rural areas.

I’d encourage anyone with an interest in rural broadband to read the full report to learn more.

Chris Townsend, CEO BDUK