Labour MPs internet goes down while she is making a point about superfast broadband

Ministers fear public not spending government money they could be on upgrading their broadband

At current rates, scheme will be left with a surplus 

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Tuesday 11 August 2020 06:26

Ministers fear a significant underspend in money set aside for a flagship scheme that offers the public subsidies to upgrade their broadband.

A publicity drive has now been launched in a bid to increase awareness of the help.

It has also been subtly rebranded in some parts of the country, in the hope that might drive demand.

Nearly half a million households have benefitted from the cash in the last two years, official figures show.

But at current levels of uptake the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme will run a surplus.

An awareness drive has been launched, especially in some council areas where top-up money is available, making the scheme even more attractive.

In some parts of the country, it is also sometimes referred to as the more catchy ‘broadband upgrade fund’ in a bid to boost applications.

Worth a total of more than £90 million, the scheme is designed to help subsidise the cost of building faster broadband for homes and businesses.

It is targeted at rural, hard-to-reach areas that are not likely to be connected through the commercial roll-out of gigabit networks in the near future.

One quirk of the scheme is that to be viable, two or more households or premises have to band together.

To try to encourage more people to take up the high-speed connections, ministers have also set up a new task force involving the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Which?.

Digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman said: “I urge people in rural communities in the digital slow lane to apply for the immediate financial help available so they can seize the benefits of better connectivity — from making work easier to catching up with family and friends.

“I am also launching a new drive with business and consumer champions to make more people aware of just how beneficial better, faster broadband can be.”

The government said that to date more than 3,500 broadband vouchers have been issued to rural homes and businesses in Somerset, as well as nearly 2,000 in Cumbria and more than 1,000 in Kent, Lancashire, Hampshire, West Yorkshire and Surrey.

The vouchers are worth up to £1,500 for rural homes and up to £3,500 for small and medium-sized businesses in rural areas, provided they apply as a collective of two or more properties.

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