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The Chancellor of the Exchequer has confirmed £200 million will go towards speeding up the delivery of full-fibre broadband networks.

Speaking to MPs in his keynote speech yesterday (March 8th), Philip Hammond said the money will be used to leverage private sector investment in the technology.

This will be done by bringing together local public sector customers, to "create enough broadband demand to reduce the financial risk of building new full-fibre networks".

The government will also offer full-fibre broadband connection vouchers for businesses, to boost the take-up of services where new networks are built through the programme.

Public sector assets, such as existing ducts, will also be opened up to reduce the cost of deploying fibre technology, while public sector buildings such as schools and hospitals will be directly connected.

The government said this will bring fibre technology closer to more homes and businesses, therefore allowing them to be connected.

Mr Hammond also confirmed that £16 million will be used to set up a new 5G mobile technology hub, as the government is keen for the UK to become "a world leader in the next wave of mobile technology and services".

This backs up previous commitments from the government to improving connectivity throughout the country and opening up access to faster internet speeds.

For instance, Mr Hammond had already confirmed in his Autumn Statement last year that £400 million would be put towards improving the UK's fibre broadband infrastructure.

He said the money would be placed in a Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund, with cash shared between fibre broadband providers seeking to expand, while private investors will be asked to match the amount put forward by the government.

A further £740 million was allocated for developing 5G services and operating a scheme that enables local authorities to bid for fibre connectivity.

In addition, ministers have confirmed that a five-year 100 per cent business rates holiday will be introduced for broadband providers that invest in a full-fibre network.

The government has also pledged to implement a new broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) that ensures everyone in Britain has a legal right to request minimum speeds of 10Mbps by 2020.

In a recent vote on the Digital Economy Bill in the House of Lords, peers backed the idea of raising the minimum download speed to 30Mbps.

Budget reaction

The measures announced by the Chancellor in the Budget have received a largely positive response from the sector.

For instance, fibre broadband provider Hyperoptic said: "The more the government commits, the faster companies like us can rollout ultrafast broadband services". 

Steve Holford, Chief Customer Officer at the firm, commented: "Full fibre connectivity enables limitless possibilities, supporting enterprise, the increasingly digital dependent economy, digital inclusion and our overall quality of life."

He added that it is "refreshing" to see that the government's attitude towards broadband infrastructure is shifting from "making do" towards "making it better".

The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA) was also pleased with the Chancellor's commitment to supporting the digital economy.

However, it urged the government to make sure it uses a range of policy measures to support ongoing broadband rollout and investment by the market.

For instance, the organisation said ministers must prioritise the removal of barriers that add "significant administrative costs" to broadband providers.

James Blessing, Chairman of ISPA, commented: "ISPA members are investing in their networks, products and services and will be key to delivering government's plan to increase productivity. 

"Investment from government in infrastructure, skills and R&D are positive steps, but it is important that government continues to reduce barriers to investment and broadband rollout through a clear, joined-up approach."

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