Rural estates and farms needing to improve their broadband connectivity have another opportunity to apply for grant funding through the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme.
The government has recently confirmed that a third round of the scheme will open on 8 April 2021, with a total funding pot of £210m on offer.
In many rural areas, existing wired broadband connections are woefully slow. For the fastest and most reliable fixed wired broadband, capable of delivering speeds sufficient for modern demands, a full-fibre connection is required.
Stuart Gray of Strutt & Parker’s St Albans office, says the scheme offers grants (known as vouchers) to anyone with a connection speed of less than 100mbps, in rural areas where no investment is already planned to improve broadband infrastructure.
“Applicants do need to be part of a group scheme, meaning two or more homes or businesses combining vouchers towards a shared cost of installation.” he says. “Larger numbers of properties can also band together to form a community fibre partnership, and given eligible premises can receive up to £1,500 per home or £3,500 per business, community collectives can accumulate significant sums towards the costs of installation.
“For example, we recently worked with a rural estate which joined forces with a community fibre partnership in the local village, enabling 77 properties to be connected. The voucher scheme enabled £123,500 to be raised against a total project cost quoted by Openreach of £170,000. However, because the estate was able to deliver significant savings by installing some of the underground ducts itself, ultimately the vouchers fully covered the fibre provision to all 77 properties.”
Mr Gray points out other grant assistance may also be available from Local Authorities and/or development trusts, so is always worth investigating. Indeed, a number of successful community fibre partnerships have received funding from multiple sources, both public and private.
“However, it is worth noting that rolling out fibre-optic networks takes significant time even with government assistance. Only half the requested connections have actually been made so far. The Gigabit Voucher Scheme has also proved popular in the past, so applicants are advised to act promptly in case the funding is used up quickly.”
Key points of scheme:
- Supports rural homes and businesses (classed as up to 249 employees and £36m turnover) with the cost of upgrading connections.
- The group requests a connection from a scheme-endorsed Internet Service Provider (ISP) – often Openreach – who then requests the vouchers on behalf of the group.
- There is a postcode checker onhttps://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk which confirms whether your property is eligible.
- Eligible premises can receive up to £1,500 per home or £3,500 per business, meaning that community collectives can accumulate significant sums towards the costs.
- Any agreement may be subject to the Electronic Communications Code.
- Single connections are not eligible for the scheme. For estates and farms in remote areas which are sparsely populated, the costs of installation may still be prohibitive, even with the vouchers, so alternative solutions may be required.