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Government target of gigabit broadband in 85% of homes in the UK by 2025 at risk

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The Government is at risk of missing its ambitious target to bring gigabit-capable broadband to at least 85 per cent of the UK by 2025 because too few people and businesses are aware of it, a report has warned.

The Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group (GigaTAG), which consists of consumer rights group Which?, the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and FSB (Federation of Small Businesses), found that more than half (59%) of consumers were not aware of gigabit-capable broadband, while a third (33%) of small businesses had not heard of the technology.

This lack of awareness of the Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme, which is set to upgrade more than one million hard-to-reach homes and businesses to gigabit-capable connections from 2022, may derail plans to upgrade the majority of the UK in four years’ time, the group has cautioned.

Targeted voucher schemes aimed at lower-income households in a similar vein to the system championed by Manchester United footballer and child welfare campaigner Marcus Rashford to ensure they can afford the cost of upgrading their connection is among the suggestions the GigaTAG has made to improve uptake.

Gigabit-capable broadband is capable of delivering speeds of at least 1,000Mbps (Megabits per second, the rate at which data is transferred), the equivalent of downloading a Blu-Ray film in two minutes.

The UK’s average fixed line broadband download connection speed reached 80.2Mbps last year, regulator Ofcom announced last month, a 25.3 per cent rise on the previous year.

Ofcom should partner with the broadband industry to develop clear terminology to help the public understand what gigabit broadband is and why it could be beneficial to them, the GigaTAG has advised the Government, adding that local authorities could also help to raise awareness in local communities.

“Demand for faster, more reliable broadband services is crucial to the success of the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband, and to ensure the benefits of these connections are realised,” said Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which? and chair of the GigaTAG.

“Better information about the benefits, measures to improve the language used to describe these services, along with possible targeted voucher and discount schemes, will help to address the barriers preventing consumers from benefiting from better connections.”

Andrew Glover, chair of industry body the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), said the group welcomed the opportunity to support the GigaTAG, which it contributed to.

“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital connectivity more than ever and while our members are rolling out gigabit capable networks at pace, it will be equally important to ensure that take-up continues to grow,” he said.

“GigaTAG makes a number of important recommendations and it will now be the responsibility of our members, Ofcom, local and central Government to take these forward.”

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