UK government pledges £200m in full-fibre funding to rural areas

31 Oct 2018246 Views

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Snowdonia, Wales. Image: © EddieCloud/Stock.adobe.com

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Philip Hammond, UK chancellor of the exchequer, announces cash injection for full-fibre broadband deployment.

The UK budget has been announced and the government is to provide rural areas with £200m from the National Productivity Infrastructure Fund for full-fibre broadband projects.

Philip Hammond, UK chancellor of the exchequer, said: “We are investing in our nation’s infrastructure and backing the technologies of the future.”

Bridging the broadband gap

Tim Breitmeyer, president of the CLA, the UK representative body for landowners, rural businesses and farmers across Wales and England, said that the chancellor had “prioritised connecting the countryside like never before”. He added: “Digital connectivity is vital to boosting rural economic growth, and this funding will go towards projects which should lead to the deployment of full-fibre broadband in the hardest-to-reach areas.”

While he said the investment was very welcome, he added that the UK government has still missed an opportunity to incorporate 4G connectivity into its plans for rural growth. He criticised mobile network operators, saying they had “abandoned the countryside by failing to resolve poor signal and ‘not-spots’”. Other analysts agreed that while fibre is crucial, mobile network infrastructure is also an important element of a connected ecosystem, particularly as the world gears up for 5G.

The National Farmer’s Union also welcomed the news but added that the efforts must be continuous in order to provide rural areas with the connectivity they need. According to statistics cited by Telecompaper, more than half of UK farmers believe the broadband they receive is not sufficient to their business needs.

ComputerWeekly reported that the first locations in rural areas to be targeted will be primary schools, with a voucher scheme to be made available for homes and businesses nearby. This will focus on the Borders, the Welsh Valleys and Cornwall.

£95m remains in the Local Full-Fibre Networks Fund and £5.9m of this has been released to Suffolk County Council to upgrade full-fibre connections at public sector sites.

Basic internet access is not enough

CEO of Community Fibre, Jeremy Chelot, said: “The chancellor has thankfully recognised that basic internet access is simply no longer enough. However, as the majority of the connections in the UK are still copper-based, it is evident that the UK is not yet fully prepared for the digital future. Adequate fibre broadband is swiftly becoming vital.

“It is therefore not enough to measure success by simple internet connections – the number of true full-fibre connections is the only measure policymakers should be interested in.”

Hammond added that broadband is to the 21st century what roads were to the 20th, railways to the 19th and canals to the 18th. “It’s the network infrastructure that will make this country work.”

Earlier this year, the UK placed 35th in the broadband league tables, with Ireland following at number 36.

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com