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Government reaffirms broadband funding in industrial strategy plan

The government reaffirms previous commitments to further funding of rural broadband roll-out and 5G mobile networking in its post-Brexit industrial strategy plan

The government has reaffirmed previously announced commitments to invest in the funding of rural broadband roll-out and 5G mobile networks as a means to keep the UK economy moving in its newly published post-Brexit strategy plan.

The government’s greenpaper Building our Industrial Strategy touched on a number of areas that will impact the ICT sector, including research and development and Stem education, as well as digital infrastructure, which it included alongside plans for road and rail.

“Our modern industrial strategy is a critical part of our plan for post-Brexit Britain. It will help to deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society – where wealth and opportunity are spread across every community in our United Kingdom, not just the most prosperous places in London and the South East,” wrote prime minister Theresa May in the greenpaper’s introduction.

In the greenpaper, the government said good digital infrastructure opened up opportunities for growth through better-connected businesses and customers, citing research that suggested increasing broadband speeds could add £17bn per annum to UK output.

“Improvements to digital infrastructure will be felt most in rural areas. Supporting the roll-out of fast broadband in rural areas enables new business to locate and grow there. It is estimated that an increase in broadband penetration of 10% yields 0.25% increase in GDP growth,” it added.

In line with plans set out by chancellor Philip Hammond in the November 2016 Autumn Statement, the government reconfirmed an investment of £400m in a digital infrastructure investment fund to boost commercial financing for emerging small fibre broadband providers, or altnets.

It also reconfirmed a further £740m (down £10m on Hammond’s figure) for local full fibre broadband roll-out – meaning fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – to develop infrastructure to deploy fibre into businesses and the public sector, and to integrated 5G mobile and fibre projects.

The government said it would more closely align the planning of all infrastructure projects more effectively with local and regional priorities, better matching its decisions with local plans to boost productivity and support places that have suffered from underinvestment in the past.

However, the greenpaper went no further in detailing any progress that may have been made on digital infrastructure since November 2016, and gave no hint of how or when the government would put this part of the plan into action.

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In spite of this lack of detail, the strategy announcement was welcomed by many in the industry. Mark Evans, CEO at O2 parent Telefónica UK, said he was encouraged that the prime minister had put digital at the heart of the plan.

“Connectivity is vital to the businesses that will power our post European Union economy. Our own research tells us that access to technology and connectivity is even more important to businesses than improved physical infrastructure, or even access to funding, for future growth,” said Evans.

“For businesses to fulfil their potential, we need a regulatory environment to help us meet the growing demands for coverage and data; one that encourages investment and competition. Prioritising our mobile infrastructure will help people, communities, businesses and entire industries across the whole of Britain to prosper and grow,” he added.

Phil Sorsky, global president of wireless at CommScope, added: “It’s encouraging to hear that 5G will be one of the highlights in a bid to ‘align central government infrastructure investment with local growth priorities’ during Theresa May’s first regional cabinet meeting.

“Communities, businesses and economies will clearly benefit from the roll-out of 5G mobile network technology across the country, and it represents the perfect opportunity for service providers to deliver an exceptional quality of speed and service.

“Certain barriers need to be overcome for this to be achieved, however. One of the greatest obstacles to the roll-out and adoption of 4G was the ability of government to quickly free up spectrum in high bands needed to transport 4G into the hands of consumers.

“The hope is that this latest initiative means this won’t be repeated, and that government will facilitate the necessary increase in the number of antenna sites, allowing a fully-functioning 5G network to be realised by 2020,” he said.

The greenpaper is intended to be the kick-off for a major consultation effort, and can be read in full online. ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

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