Chancellor Philip Hammond has delivered his latest Budget speech this week, which has included the provision of an additional £200 million to help roll out full fibre connectivity tools to rural areas across the UK.
The funding will come from the National Productivity Infrastructure Fund and is intended to act as a stimulus that will encourage help private companies invest in innovative full fibre networks.
Initial funding will be focused on primary schools, with homes and businesses in the vicinity of these locations also able to gain access to full fibre through the government’s voucher scheme. Areas in the Scottish Borders, Welsh Valleys and Cornwall have been identified as the first places to benefit from the investment.
In his speech, Mr Hammond said: “We are investing in our nation’s infrastructure and backing the technologies of the future.” While the actual address made no mention of broadband or full fibre specifically, supporting documents note that funding for full-fibre stimulus and 5G testbeds, which will allow companies to trial new faster wireless networks, will increase from £25 million in 2018 to £290 million by 2021.
This is part of the government’s long-term strategy of replaced all of the UK’s ageing copper wire connectivity technology will fibre-optic solutions by 2033.
While the funding announced this week will only go a small way towards meeting this goal, with figures from the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review estimating that the total investment needed to achieve a nationwide full fibre network will be in the region of £30 billion, it may be a positive first step.
However, some in the industry have suggested the government could be doing more to support the development of full fibre technology. The Financial Times reported that Openreach, for example, believes the government has missed an opportunity to stimulate investment by not reducing business rates of full fibre technology.
“We have said consistently that investment across the whole industry could be boosted by an improved approach to ‘fibre tax’ business rates, so it is disappointing that this issue hasn’t been addressed yet,” the company stated.