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Britain to start connecting first 1 million premises in rural broadband push

LONDON, March 19 (Reuters) - Britain said more than one million rural homes and businesses would get gigabit broadband in the first phase of a 5 billion pound ($7 billion) programme to connect places that commercial roll-outs by BT and its rivals would not reach.

Up to 510,000 premises in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley will be the first to benefit, it said on Friday, with building due to start in the first half of 2022.

Up to 640,000 premises in Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, will be the next in the plan, called ‘Project Gigabit’.

Areas in central Scotland were also recently allocated funding, it said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants Britain to catch up with European rivals that have full-fibre networks. Nearly two in five households now have access to gigabit broadband, up from one in 10 in 2019, the government said.

In a separate project, BT said on Thursday it would connect 20 million premises by the mid to late 2020s after the regulator set out the conditions needed for its 12 billion pound investment.

Project Gigabit is aimed at the hardest to reach areas where commercial fibre networks would not be viable.

“This broadband revolution will fire up people’s businesses and homes, and the vital public services that we all rely on, so we can continue to level up and build back better from this pandemic,” Johnson said.

Contracts to provide the services are still be awarded. BT said it was keen to support the government, and its rivals CityFibre and Gigaclear said they were also interested in taking part.

“As the nation’s largest independent full fibre platform, with a build programme underway to a third of the UK market, CityFibre is ready to extend our network even further to reach rural communities,” said CityFibre chief executive Greg Mesch.

“We look forward to participating in this important programme to ensure no one is left behind.”

$1 = 0.7173 pounds Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Jan Harvey

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