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Chancellor to pledge £400m for FTTP broadband roll-out

The chancellor is set to announce a major investment in the UK’s broadband infrastructure in the upcoming Autumn Statement

The government is set to release more than a billion pounds to fund ultrafast connectivity, including a £400m investment in ultrafast fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond will make the announcement in his Autumn Statement on Wednesday 23 November 2016. The money will be used to boost commercial financing for smaller FTTP providers or altnets, and the government hopes it will be matched by the private sector. Hammond will say it could potentially cover up to two million properties.

In addition to the £400m, the chancellor is also expected to announce a £750m investment fund for trials of 5G mobile networks, which local authorities will be able to bid for.

The news comes as further evidence of the government’s pivot away from slower broadband services towards the so-called gold standard of fibre connectivity.

Malcolm Corbett, CEO of the Independent Networks Cooperative Association, which represents the interests of the altnets, welcomed the support.

“The altnets are the entrepreneurial companies and communities building new, future-proofed, pure fibre and wireless networks. They are doing a fantastic job and the chancellor’s support signals that government is serious about creating a more competitive environment for new digital infrastructure,” he said.

Greg Mesch, CEO of urban fibre supplier CityFibre, also threw his backing behind the new fund.

“Britain’s industrial strategy needs a digital backbone, and it is essential that we move quickly to plug the UK’s ‘fibre gap’ and empower our service-based economy,” he said.

“This new funding, stimulating competitive fibre roll-out at scale by new communications infrastructure builders, is a catalyst for the delivery of the UK’s fibre future.”   

Read more about FTTP in the UK

However, comms expert and director at Cable.co.uk, Dan Howdle, branded it absurd that the government was prepared to provide gigabit speeds to a minority when there were still such widespread problems with basic fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) services.

“It may be that some of those areas targeted for ultrafast are indeed those with inadequate basic provision, but realistically it is far more likely it will be brought to areas where there is an economic incentive for those providing the service,” he said.

“Rural locations especially do not fit this criteria because the uptake among residents, even for existing superfast speeds of 24Mbps or more, tends to be very low.

“And let us not forget, there is currently no known or useful purpose for ultrafast broadband. Touting that you ‘can download a series of Game of Thrones in seconds’ is fatuous nonsense. You can already watch it in seconds by streaming it in HD with just an 8Mbps connection,” he added.

Neil Fraser, head of space and comms at satellite broadband provider ViaSat, agreed the government was not doing enough to neutralise the divide between broadband haves and have nots, and said the government needed to look to make investment across a broader mix of technologies.

“If we don’t engage the whole country, we are at risk of a two-tiered internet system, where those areas with fast services reap the benefits in terms of education, opportunity and investment, while those without broadband are left further behind,” he said.

ViaSat has recently released the findings of a TNS study it commissioned on consumer broadband. It found 72% of people did not believe the government was doing enough to meet future broadband needs, and 77% said the investment it was making was disproportionately focused on London and south-east England.

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