Spectrum auction and HS2 funding should go to broadband

The money from the 4G auction should go back into connectivity, while funding for HS2 should be redirected to digital infrastructure, say parliamentarians

Government should put funds from the spectrum auction "straight back in" to connectivity in this country, including broadband roll-out, according to Lord Erroll, director of lobby group Digital Policy Alliance.

Speaking during a meeting at Europe House in Whitehall between industry members, government and European regulators, the independent peer said the government’s current technology policy didn’t keep up with the pace of change.  

“Policies are formulated at a certain point when the technology can only do ‘x’ and by the time the policy is in [use] the world of technology has moved on so far that there may be solutions that were thought beyond the realms of possibility,” he said.

“Regulators, legislators and policy makers are going to have a big problem when the world is moving faster than you can create policy.”

Referring to mobile spectrum, he said UK government should be looking forward already, despite the 4G auction only having completed this month.  

“We should probably be thinking of 5G now because if we wait until four years’ time, we will probably be behind the curve,” he said. “We were quite slow on getting behind 4G… so I think it is a problem we need to start addressing.”

During the discussions on broadband the question of investment came up several times, including a number of references to the £530m funding put in by government to roll-out broadband to 90% of the population by 2015 and how insignificant it looked when the likes of the French government were proposing a much larger figure of £20bn.

Lord Erroll proposed the answer to boosting funding could come from the spectrum auction.  

“There has been a lot of discussion on where we will get the money from [but] I believe the government just got £2.4bn auctioning off the 4G spectrum,” he said. “Why don’t we put that straight back into this? Wouldn’t that be nice?

“The return on investment because of the growth you would get… why not invest that back in the country straight off? It would be more effective than putting it into general taxation. If you are auctioning spectrum I think the [proceeds] should stay there in that area.”

Conservative MEP James Ellis agreed more funding was needed to bolster broadband in the UK, but suggested the government get its funds from elsewhere.

“Sometimes we have to think about priorities in public infrastructure,” he said. “We need to digitise the [European] structural funds so we can direct everything possible into mobile and broadband across the European Union and ubiquitous access.”

Ellis then attacked his own party policy and suggested a “simple solution” for the UK to raise more funds.

“We need to start prioritising our own public infrastructure, prioritising what we ring-fence and what we don’t, and very simply you shouldn’t be deciding on a high-speed railway line until you decide where your hub airport is, otherwise you start constructing a line and you might now have a hub airport at the end of it,” he said.

“I would suspend High Speed 2 (HS2) immediately and start investing money into digital infrastructure because every report shows… that you could have almost half a million jobs created by almost half as much funds as is being dedicated to HS2 and I would think in a much quicker time as [rolling out] digital infrastructure would be much quicker.”

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications