Autumn Statement: Communications

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The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, revealed in his Autumn Statement that £1 billion is to be invested in digital communications.

This investment will support the Government’s commitment to the roll-out of full-fibre broadband and 5G network trials across the whole of the UK. £740 million of the £1bn earmarked will come from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF). The announcement included the good news for businesses – that, from April 2017, the Government will also provide a new 100% business rates relief for new full-fibre infrastructure for a 5-year period.

The previous Chancellor, George Osborne, had already pledged to bring superfast broadband (defined as speeds of 24 Mbps or more) to nearly all homes in the UK as part of a broader Budget commitment to bolster Britain’s digital economy.

Full-fibre broadband is said to be faster, more reliable and more secure than the current industry standard fibre optic broadband, with download speeds of up to 1GB per second. Currently only 2% of the UK population has access to full-fibre broadband.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock had previously discussed the Government’s promise to roll out full-fibre broadband throughout the UK in October 2016, stating: “We need the right infrastructure. That means ubiquitous coverage, so no-one is left out, and with sufficient capacity not only for today’s needs but in readiness for future change and demand.”

A European Commission survey this year revealed that superfast broadband coverage in rural communities in Britain is poor and the Commission stated that the British Government had not done enough to provide people living in the countryside access to high-speed broadband.

The survey found that only just under half of Britain’s rural households had access to superfast broadband at 30Mbps, the level that allows users to stream a film online.

The private sector  will be matching public sector investment and current plans are to roll out full-fibre broadband nationwide by 2020-21.

MPs have previously been critical of BT, the nation’s top broadband provider with 32 per cent of the market share, for not investing more in broadband infrastructure. However, BT is looking to invest £6 billion into the new infrastructure, providing 12 million homes with broadband speeds in excess of 300Mbps by 2020.

Funding will also be made available to support trials of 5G mobile communications. 5G is the proposed next telecommunications standard beyond the current 4G standard, and is faster and more efficient than what the public are used to.

With this Autumn Statement the Chancellor has made it clear that his philosophy is to invest in today to build for the economy of the future and that access to high-speed broadband is essential to his plans.


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