Homes and businesses in rural areas who want faster broadband could benefit by applying to a government voucher scheme.
The Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme was launched by the Government in 2018 with the aim of increasing gigabit-capable coverage across the UK, especially in the countryside.
For the fastest and most reliable broadband, capable of delivering gigabit speeds, a full-fibre connection is required, but the UK’s lacklustre broadband network means many of those in rural areas and even locations just out of town can’t get one.
Network providers are often reluctant to extend fibre and it can be pricey to install, leaving many in rural areas without speedy internet. However, the cost can be hugely discounted with the scheme.
The Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme aims to increase internet coverage across the UK
At first glance, it can seem that the scheme is quite confusing with households who want to apply having to ensure others in the nearby area are also willing to apply.
To help settle any confusion and explain exactly how the scheme works, This is Money has answered the most common questions surrounding the Government programme.
What is the aim of the rural broadband scheme?
The Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme has two aims. Firstly, to connect businesses and homes not due for an upgrade through normal industry rollout soon with the fastest next-generation, gigabit-capable broadband.
Secondly, to encourage broadband companies, especially smaller and alternative network providers, to start building gigabit capable broadband in some of the hardest-to-reach areas of the UK.
Larger providers such as BT Openreach and Gigaclear are using the scheme but it also hopes to encourage hundreds of small local providers to scale their operations to better support their local communities.
Matt Warman, Digital Infrastructure Minister, said: ‘Our broadband vouchers offer immediate financial assistance to help bring faster gigabit speed broadband to rural homes and businesses.
‘I urge people to visit our website to check if they’re eligible for a voucher to help them get these next-generation speeds.’
Who is eligible and why you need good neighbours?
Homes and businesses with broadband speeds of less than 100Mbps can use vouchers to support the cost of installing new gigabit-capable connections when part of a group scheme.
Group projects are when two or more residents and/or SMEs get together to combine their vouchers towards the shared cost of installation.
Single connections are not eligible for additional funding.
What is gigabit internet?
Gigabit internet delivers download speeds of up to 1Gbps, the equivalent of 1,000Mbps.
These kinds of speeds are typically only available in locations with fibre-to-the-premises, commonly known as ‘full fibre’ connections.
This is when the connection between your provider, the network and your home is completed entirely using fibre-optic cables rather than copper phone lines, according to Uswitch.
Therefore, households and small businesses have to discuss between themselves who would like to apply, how many people would like to apply and how the cost would then be shared.
For those who do not have nearby neighbours, or have neighbours who do not wish to take part, this could cause some grievance.
We asked the Government how it would work if, for example, two households wanted to take part but no others?
It said it is not possible to say how it would work because every location and situation is different.
It added that it depends how far that premises owner is from the nearest gigabit-capable supply, which could be miles, it could be mountainous, crossing rivers or roads.
It said this is why the Government is intervening because ‘it is not easy to do’.
Can you jump on board someone else’s upgrade?
If gigabit-capable broadband goes past any premises, in theory, households can upgrade to whatever service the supplier is offering.
Suppliers would do their best to switch any premises owner to the best possible connection.
However, in these rural, hard-to-reach locations it is highly likely that suppliers would encourage as many of the premises owners in a community to take part in the scheme so that they can boost the value of the available fund towards the overall installation costs.
People in rural areas are urged to contact their current service provider to see if they are registered for this scheme.
If not they can speak to any service providers who are actively building in their area through the postcode search on the website.
If they are eligible for a voucher, they will see a list of registered suppliers and can choose who they would like to approach to apply for a voucher on their behalf.
Suppliers then manage all marketing and operational communication with potential beneficiaries/customers.
Slow internet connection is common in rural areas where there are no full fibre connections
Who wouldn’t be qualify?
Premises owners may be ineligible to apply for the voucher for three main reasons. Firstly, they are not in a rural area as defined by the ONS.
Secondly, the available broadband speed in their area is already more than 100Mbps and thirdly, there is planned government-funded intervention, for example, its Superfast Programme, in their area within the next 12 months.
How can I apply?
If households want to apply, they can discuss it with their fellow neighbours but ultimately the decision lies with the supplier.
If the premises owner has already asked neighbours if they want to take part in a scheme, the supplier would probably be grateful, but ultimately, the supplier has to work out if the build to that area is viable.
Applicants will need to go on the Government website and enter their postcode to ensure they are in an area eligible for works.
If you are, you will see a message below the box to indicate that you may be eligible. You can then continue your enquiry with any of your nearest registered suppliers listed underneath.
The supplier you select will request a voucher from the Government and it will confirm with the applicant they are happy to go ahead.
If all confirmed, the supplier get to work delivering the new connection. After the supplier tells the Government the connection has been made, it will check with the applicant it is working properly.
It added it sometimes makes further checks before it pays out, including running third party audits of connections installed to ensure that suppliers are doing their job properly. This should not affect the premises owner.
The Government will pay the voucher money to the supplier not the customer directly
How much will it cost?
Beneficiaries of the scheme do not directly receive any money through the scheme, as the voucher is used to offset the costs to the supplier installing gigabit-capable broadband to their premises.
The premises owner will pay ongoing usage costs for the connection as normal.
Rural premises with broadband speeds of less than 100Mbps can use vouchers worth £1,500 per home and up to £3,500 for each small to medium-sized business to support the cost of installing new fast and reliable connections.
Anything over this amount will have to be paid by the households and businesses themselves.
The cost of the connection will vary depending on the location and the size of the operation but will likely range in the mid to high thousands.
What will happen if I am successful in my application?
Beneficiaries of the scheme must agree to take a gigabit capable connection from their chosen supplier for at least 12 months and their new connection should double their current speed but must be at least 30Mbps.
Vouchers can only be issued to group schemes where a group is defined as two or more premises.
However, if the cost to build gigabit-capable broadband to those two properties is more than the value of the vouchers they can claim, the supplier may ask the premises owners to pay the balance.
So, the larger the group of premises, the more funding that can be pooled together for the supplier to use to offset the overall build costs.
If, for example, you are a household that wants to install a fast connection and other premises nearby do not, the installation would rely upon the supplier being able to cover the installation costs and/or asking the premises that are participating to fund the difference themselves.
The programme ultimately encourages suppliers to start building gigabit capable infrastructure in some of the hardest to reach areas of the UK.
Getting new fibre into these areas, and therefore closer to nearby properties, can ultimately encourage suppliers to keep building out their networks in those areas.
There are examples of this happening in Wessex Internet, in Dorset, Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN), in Lancashire, the community project in Balquhidder, in Scotland, Broadway Partners, in Wales and Fibrus, in Northern Ireland.
Who has the scheme helped?
How many people have used the scheme since it launched?
As of the end of August 2020, 44,291 vouchers have been issued since summer 2018 – worth more than £90million.
Of these, 28,642 have been issued to businesses and 15,649 have been issued to residences.
The reason the number is so high for businesses is because the first iteration of the scheme was focused towards SMEs whilst the scheme is now focused on both supporting homes and businesses.
In June, the UK and Welsh governments teamed up to boost the amount available in certain areas, due the difficulty and expense of rolling out broadband infrastructure in rural Wales.
This boost doubled the vouchers’ worth so that homes in rural Wales can now receive £3,000 and SMEs £7,000.
In England, similar voucher top-ups are also available in Cumbria, Kent, Northumberland, Hampshire, Dorset, Warwickshire and West Sussex, to help connect some of the hardest-to-reach places.
Where has seen the biggest uptake?
The current scheme is focused on rural areas. Currently, the regions with the most vouchers issued are Northumberland, Cumbria, Kent and Somerset.
However, there has been an uptake in vouchers all over the country.
Will this continue in the future?
As part of the industry and Government’s plans for nationwide gigabit-capable broadband coverage, it has committed a further £5billion to connect the hardest to reach areas of the UK.