The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has officially launched the Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) Challenge Fund trailed by chancellor Philip Hammond in his technology-heavy Budget statement on 22 November.
With a total of £200m to spend – £10m of which has already been allocated to six pilot projects, leaving £190m – the LFFN fund is designed to stimulate further and faster roll-out of full fibre, or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband networks at the local level.
Hammond initially announced the scheme in the 2017 Spring Budget and, ultimately, the cash will be drawn from a £740m tranche of the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), which Hammond first announced 12 months ago.
“World-class connectivity is increasingly essential to people at work and at home,” said digital minister Matt Hancock. “It is vital to ensure the UK’s future competitiveness in the global market and our ability to attract investment. Full fibre is fundamental for fashioning a Britain fit for the future.”
The scheme has been specifically designed to demonstrate new approaches to broadband roll-out that will encourage additional investment from private sector network builders and make sustainable commercial deployments of FTTP viable.
It will target key public buildings – such as council offices, hospitals and schools – and turn them into so-called anchor tenants, in the expectation that this will lead to broadband providers adding connections to local homes and businesses.
DCMS is encouraging a range of bodies, including local councils, local enterprise partnerships, local education authorities and NHS trusts, to bid for money from the fund.
The scheme will be open until 31 March 2021, and DCMS said that in the initial wave, it hopes to offer funding for up to 15 projects with a combined value of up to £75m, including one or two larger multi-authority applications. It will reserve the right to release a further £25m if it receives enough high-scoring applications.
The application process, details of which are available on the DCMS website, is already open and will close on 26 January 2018. Selected projects will be notified in March.
DCMS will open up applications for a third wave of projects in spring 2018, and potentially a fourth at an unspecified date if there is still funding available.