House of Commons Library

Superfast Broadband Coverage in the UK

Published Thursday, August 18, 2016

A House of Commons Library Briefing Paper on the Government’s superfast broadband policy for the UK. It sets out the current situation with regard to broadband access and coverage in all four nations of the UK and how the roll-out of superfast broadband is being managed and funded.

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Government Targets

Superfast broadband has been rolled out to much of the country on commercial terms by providers such as BT and Virgin Media. The Government’s policy is to provide funding to support the roll-out of superfast broadband to those areas of the UK where commercial roll-out is not economically viable. This is mostly, but not entirely, in rural areas. The Government defines superfast as speeds greater than 24Mbps.

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is responsible for implementing the Government’s policy on superfast broadband roll-out which consists of three stages:

  • provide superfast broadband coverage to 90% of UK premises by early 2016 and access to basic broadband (2Mbps) for all from December 2015 – “Phase 1”
  • provide superfast broadband coverage to 95% of UK premises by the end of 2017 – “Phase 2”
  • explore options to provide superfast coverage to the hardest to reach parts of the UK - “the final 5%”

The BDUK coverage targets include the commercial roll-out. However, the BDUK programme and funding is focused on those areas that are not reached by the commercial roll-out.

Phase 1

In a Westminster Hall debate on 9 March 2016 the Minister of State for the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey MP, stated that the target for coverage of 90% of UK premises had been met.

The broadband comparison website thinkbroadband collects broadband statistics using its own methodology, which is different from that of BDUK. thinkbroadband stated that the 90% target was met on 7 April 2016.

The Final 5%

With Phase 2 of the broadband roll-out underway in many areas the focus has moved to superfast broadband coverage for the “final 5%” of UK premises. The remaining unserved premises (estimated at 1.5 million) are geographically dispersed across the landmass of the UK.

In the Queen’s Speech on 18 May 2016 the Government announced its intention to legislate for a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) in the upcoming Digital Economy Bill. A USO would introduce a legal right to request a broadband connection from a provider at a minimum speed, currently expected to be 10Mbps. The Government intends for the USO to be in place by 2020 at the latest.

Delivery of the roll-out

In England each county council or local enterprise partnership (collectively known as ‘local bodies’) is leading the broadband roll-out in their area. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the roll-out is led by the devolved administrations.

BDUK developed a broadband delivery framework for use by the local bodies to assist in the procurement process. The framework contract was signed by DCMS and the suppliers BT and Fujitsu on 29 June 2012. However Fujitsu later withdrew leaving BT as the only participant in the framework agreement. BT was eventually awarded all 44 Phase 1 contracts. The procurement process for Phase 1 contracts was criticised by the Public Accounts Committee which stated that the procurement process failed to ensure meaningful competition for contracts.


By the end of March 2016 the BDUK government funded superfast broadband programme had extended superfast broadband to 3.8 million homes and businesses across the UK.

Ofcom’s Connected Nations report, published in December 2015, noted:

  • the average download speed for the entire UK is 28Mbps, although speeds available to customers vary considerably;
  • only 2% of UK premises are unable to receive speeds of at least 2Mbps through a fixed line
  • superfast broadband – speeds greater than 30 Mbps – is now available in 83% of UK premises, with take-up of 27%.


Commons Briefing papers SN06643

Authors: Daniel Rathbone; David Foster

Topics: Internet and cybercrime, Telecommunications

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