Government funds rural broadband rollout for primary schools

The government allocated £82m to connect up to 3,000 schools in remote areas to broadband capable of delivering 1,000 megabits per second

The government has confirmed an investment of £82 million to “level up” access to broadband in rural primary schools.

The Departments for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Education (DfE) announced the joint pledge on 30 June. An estimated 500,000 pupils in “up to” 3,000 schools will benefit from broadband “capable of delivering up to 1,000 megabits per second”, said a ministerial statement. The programme aims to meet gaps in online rural broadband in areas not likely to benefit from the commercial replacement of outdated copper cables.

Funding for up to 2,000 schools will come from the DCMS-managed Gigahubs programme, part of the £5 billion Project Gigabit that aims to improve reliable broadband in outlying parts of the UK.

The Gigahubs programme will receive up to £110m over three years to connect up to 7,000 rural public sector buildings, including libraries, GP surgeries and primary schools to broadband.

The DfE will fund the rollout to the remaining 1,000 schools that are part of the headline 3,000 pledge, which the government says will be reached by the end of 2025. The DfE will top up its funding allocations with £30m for a pilot project – Connect the Classroom – which will trial an upgrade of tech infrastructure, such as cloud services, video conferencing software and WiFi, in schools in its 24 Priority Education Investment Areas.

“This investment will open a whole world of possibilities for schools and teachers in hard-to-reach areas,” said Robin Walker, the schools minister, “whether that is through more access to online resources for children or fast, top-quality video streaming.”

He added: “It is more important now than ever for schools to be connected, and this welcome investment comes on top of the programme of upgrades to connectivity and Wi-Fi that we are delivering through our Priority Education Investment Areas.”

The Priority Education Investment Areas are Blackpool, Bradford, Derby, Doncaster, Fenlands and East Cambridgeshire, Halton, Hartlepool, Hastings, Ipswich, Knowsley, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire Coast, Norwich, Nottingham, Oldham, Portsmouth, Rochdale, Salford, Sandwell, Stoke-on-Trent, Tameside, Walsall and West Somerset.

A report published recently by Lancaster University highlighted the lack of connectivity in northwest England, which includes large rural areas across Cumbria and the Pennines. A survey found that relatively high proportion of the people in the region had no or very limited internet access, with 20% lacking mobile broadband and 13% with poor quality or no wifi.

Read more: New report exposes depth and complexity of digital poverty

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