The government is urging struggling rural broadband customers to ask for money it has set aside to pay for very high speed connections.
Digital Minister Matt Warman said £ 70million was “still there for the taking”.
The Gigabit voucher system is part of the government’s campaign pledge to bring broadband speeds of up to 1000 Mbps across the country by 2025.
He says nearly half a million homes have been connected thanks to government grants.
The average broadband speed in the UK is around 64 Mbps (megabits per second), according to the latest figures from Ofcom.
Mr Warman said the 2025 target was ambitious and that he could only commit to “getting as close as possible”.
“We are talking about a goal in five years. We are absolutely convinced that we are doing all the right things, ”he said.
The total number of ‘gigabit capable’ premises in the UK is now 7.5 million, or about a quarter of the country, according to the government. Business enterprises are responsible for the vast majority,
“This is huge progress – we can continue to make sure we are making the same kind of progress until 2025 and beyond,” Warman said.
‘As far away as you could be’
Belinda Huckle lives and works in the same building in the Yorkshire Dales, and says the gigabit voucher program has been “transformative.”
“There are a lot of sheep, a lot of hills and it takes about an hour round trip just to get milk. So we’re about as far apart as you could be, ”she said.
“Most of the time, we got up very early and the internet was down.
“And to alleviate the fact that we had to drive a few miles to a rest area and sit in a rest area in the dark with our laptops, spot our hot phones in order to conduct business roughly in the middle.” from the field. ”
After applying for the gigabit voucher program, she now has reliable service – and speeds that have gone from under 20 Mbps (when it worked) to 850 Mbps.
Ms Huckle said the program has been excellent – but the government’s messages need to be clearer.
“The advertising on Facebook is very deceptive, and it’s confusing because people think they’re going to suddenly have 15 cents in their pockets… It doesn’t work that way. ”
After applying, however, she says the whole process is “really frictionless.”
The system exists because it is not always commercially viable to dig roads and fields to provide good broadband to some remote locations.
If you live in a rural area and have medium or low broadband speeds, the program allows you to charge up to £ 1,500 for personal homes and £ 3,500 for businesses, to set up a new connection.
But the money doesn’t go to individuals – instead, you’ll need to contact a broadband provider in your area to handle the grant, and two or more residents in a “group program” are required to qualify. .
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports says it has already distributed 45,000 vouchers, worth more than £ 90million – though only 29,000 of those connections have been put into use so far. now.
Most of the government’s investment in broadband infrastructure is a £ 5 billion fund pledged for nationwide deployment – but providers are unsure how it will be allocated.
The head of BT’s Openreach infrastructure division recently warned that providers “need this plan now” if the government is to meet its 2025 target.
The industry body, the Association of Internet Service Providers (Ispa), warns that the sheer scale of the deployment remains a major obstacle.
Ispa said the government must take “urgent measures” to break down barriers to deployment.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also caused problems. Its members “have had very different experiences, depending on where they are … across the country,” he said.
Local authorities have adopted different attitudes in authorizing work to continue and in issuing permits.
Mr Warman also said that while the focus was on rural connections, some areas that “didn’t keep up” in larger cities were also being looked at.
“We fully understand that there are urban and suburban areas that are commercially viable, but there are parts that are not yet where they need to be – and that needs to be a priority,” he said.