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The government has awarded a £95m slice of its £190m Local Full-Fibre Network (LFFN) Challenge Fund to 13 fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband projects around the UK as part of an update on a number of the government’s ongoing network connectivity projects given by chancellor Philip Hammond in his 13 March Spring Statement – which replaces the Spring Budget.
First announced in the 2017 Autumn Budget, the £190m LFFN fund forms part of a wider £500m package of financing for digital technology projects, which is ultimately drawn from the multi-billion pound National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).
The successful projects are located in Armagh, Belfast, Blackpool, Cambridgeshire, Cardiff, Coventry, the Highlands, London, Manchester, Mid-Sussex, North Yorkshire, Portsmouth and Wolverhampton, each of which are set to receive (subject to due diligence) between £2.23m and £15.1m of funding to help lever local and commercial investment in FTTP broadband.
Though 95% of premises in the UK can now access a so-called “superfast” broadband service – defined by the government as one capable of delivering speeds of 24Mbps or above – at present, only 3% of premises can access the gold standard of FTTP, which can deliver speeds of up to and beyond 1,000Mbps, or 1Gbps, thanks to a number of factors including cost and existing commercial interests.
Spooked by declining productivity figures and the looming prospect of Brexit, the government is now firmly behind FTTP as a means to boost the UK economy, and wants to stimulate the market to invest more in the technology. The LFFN Challenge Fund is one of a number of means by which it hopes to achieve this.
“The allocation of the first wave of funding from the Local Full Fibre Network Challenge Fund underlines the importance of local projects to the UK’s digital infrastructure agenda,” said Adrian Baschnonga, lead telecoms analyst at services house EY.
“Unlocking demand for ultra-fast broadband across regions and among smaller businesses will help ensure that the benefits of improved fibre networks are felt across the nation,” he said. “Investment in 5G test projects also underlines the need for a regional approach, since 5G can deliver benefits across a range of scenarios, from smart cities to the rural economy.”
Read more about full-fibre broadband
Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) chair Andrew Glover said: “Long term investment in the UK’s telecoms networks, including through the LFFN Challenge Fund, remains a key priority in delivering reliable and leading edge communication services.
“In addition to targeted support, Government must also continue to reform and remove barriers to broadband rollout to ensure the UK remains well connected and able to compete in a global digital economy.”
The successful projects in the first wave of funding include using hospitals and other NHS properties as “anchor tenants” to provide full-fibre hubs that surrounding homes and businesses can connect to; upgrading schools and libraries; re-purposing existing infrastructure to allow FTTP to be rolled out at lower cost; and creating “fibre spines” along transport routes and public building networks to bring fibre to nearby properties.