Bye bye business rates on full fibre broadband

The announcement of a Business Rates holiday for full fibre broadband investment from April 1st is a tribute to the hard work put in by many players. It is also, perhaps, the cheapest give away the Chancellor has ever made. I calculate the net cost as zero. From almost the first month it will generate more taxable revenue for less hassle. There are many to thank but Kit Malthouse (Parliamentary Chairman of the Digital Infrastructure Group of the  Conservative Technology Forum) was the only MP to actually ask for action on business rates during the second reading of the Digital Economy Bill. Others thought it too difficult or technical an ask. I would also like to thank those who pursued appeals within the letter and spirit of the business rates regime. They succeeded in demonstrating that the current tone list values were about to collapse anyway.

Now comes the hard work of delivery. I put off blogging on the actions in put in train after the discussions at the party conference until today’s announcement – the hope that I could tick off at least one. Hence my joy that one of the biggest obstacles in the way of investment by the competitors to BTs has been removed.

The full wording in the Autumn Statement is as follows:

Digital communications

3.20  The government will invest over £1 billion by 2020-21, including £740 million through the NPIF, targeted at supporting the market to roll out full-fibre connections and future 5G communications. This will bring faster and more reliable broadband for homes and businesses across the UK, boost the next generation of mobile connectivity and keep the UK in the forefront of the development of the Internet of Things.

This will be delivered through:

  • £400 million for a new Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund, at least matched by private finance, to invest in new fibre networks over the next 4 years, helping to boost market ambitions to deploy full-fibre access to millions more premises by 2020
  • a new 100% business rates relief for new full-fibre infrastructure for a 5 year period from 1 April 2017; this is designed to support roll out to more homes and businesses (39) providing funding to local areas to support investment in a much bigger fibre ‘spine’ across the UK, prioritising full-fibre connections for businesses and bringing together public sector demand. The government will work in partnership with local areas to deliver this, and a call for evidence on delivery approaches will be published shortly after the Autumn Statement (10)
  • providing funding for a coordinated programme of integrated fibre and 5G trials, to keep the UK at the forefront of the global 5G revolution; further detail will be set out at Budget2017 as part of the government’s 5G Strategy (10)

Among the topics I aim to cover in the blogs over the next few week are:

  • the need for network builders and those property owners who want better fixed and mobile access for their tenants to work together to secure fast and fair agreements on access and wayleaves: within days or weeks, not months or years. A start has been made but there is much still to do.
  • the need for backhaul competition – to provide the secure and resilient inter-operable, but not inter-dependant (i.e. no single points of vulnerability), fibre spines on which a smart society, with ubiquitous 5G and vast flocks of chattering IoT devices, will depend.
  • the need for maintenance competition – so that those dependent on, for example, Openreach, do not have to wait for one of their engineers or contractors to fix that which those who already maintain much of the UK’s critical national infrastructure could fix without delay.
  • the need for a central repository of information on 5G standards and trials, perhaps maintained by Inspec and/or the National Physical Laboratory,  so that not just UK researchers and innovators, but those making plans and committing procurements have easy access to world class information.

On the 17th October the council of the Digital Policy Alliance approved, subject to membership buy-in,  plans covering all these topics. One of the reasons I have not blogged much since has been because I have been busy identifying those who want to deliver practical results and pull forward future-ready investment. I lost interest in those who wish to identify and admire problems for future study some years ago. The necessary critical mass finally appears to be coming together. I look forward to being able to also blog on some very interesting partnerships, as soon as the participants are willing to be quoted.