Yesterday UK government Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered his Spending Review 2020 speech. The speech set out the government's planned actions to help get the country through the current health emergency. The immediate priority of the government, as stated by Sunak, is "to protect people’s lives and livelihoods". Of course that means that some services will be bolstered and others cut back.
After the speech finer details of what will actually be happening started to become clearer and that includes details of changes to the government's UK Gigabit Broadband Programme. In brief it looks like the government might be using the pandemic as cover to admit that PM Johnson's pledge of "gigabit broadband sprouting in every home" by the end of 2025 wasn't realistic. In fact we already had some indications that reality had started to bite, back in September, when the government reworded its commitment to "go as far as we possibly can by 2025."
So, what is new in the full Spending Review 2020 published announcement PDF, with regard to broadband? Well, the government committed to investing "£1.2 billion to subsidise the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband, as part of the government's £5 billion commitment to support rollout to the hardest to reach areas of the UK". That sounds fair on the surface but it looks like this £1.2 billion isn't a per-year figure until 2025, but is spread rather thinly from now until 2025, according to the official table below.
The footnotes say "2. This is the first 4 years of the £5 billion Gigabit Broadband programme." But we can't say for sure the investment times/amounts in the coming years if further bad economic events occur. Furthermore, the BBC reports that the whole of the UK commitment has been significantly watered down to now be an aim to have a "minimum of 85 per cent coverage," for gigabit broadband in the UK by 2025.
Reducing the target like this means that the hardest areas to roll out gigabit broadband to will naturally be neglected to save funds. Thus Andrew Glover, chair of the Internet Service Providers' Association, said the scaling back of government ambitions was "a blow to rural communities".
As a reminder, Theresa May's target date of 2033 to achieve universal UK coverage of gigabit-capable broadband was called "laughably unambitious," by current PM Johnson in 2019.