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Budget offers glimmer of hope to alternative broadband providers

Wednesday, March 16th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

George Osborne may have failed to mention broadband in his Commons speech, but today's budget does include the promise of fresh investment.

As part of the latest budget, the government has pledged to establish a new Broadband Investment Fund to support the growth of alternative networks.

The new fund will be established in partnership with private sector investments with the aim of giving alternative providers greater access to finance.

The government has also committed to delivering a 5G strategy in 2017, based on an assessment by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) of how the UK can become a world leader in 5G.

As part of the NIC’s assessment, grants totalling £14.5m will be used to extend the coverage of ultrafast broadband in the south west, with the region used as a case study.

The budget says affordable broadband is “essential for a connected household sector” but admits that pricing in the market can be “opaque”.

Referencing a recent report by Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the government said it expects “quick action” to make broadband prices as clear as possible.

It also says a new cost comparison measure for telecoms services will be developed by the communications regulator later this year.

Cable.co.uk reported in January on a report by Ofcom and the ASA that found broadband adverts to be confusing and misleading for consumers.

The industry watchdogs said they would work with broadband providers to change the way packages are advertised, with the ASA deciding on a final recommended approach for advertisers by 30 May.

Mobile masts

In terms of mobile coverage, today's budget promises “greater freedoms and flexibilities” in England to support the deployment of the necessary infrastructure.

These will include reducing planning restrictions for existing telecoms infrastructure and allowing new, taller masts to be built.

Currently ‘permitted development rights’ – which allow certain things to be built without a planning application – only cover masts up to 15m tall.

But government plans first announced in July last year would see these rights extended to taller masts, which it is hoped would improve the mobile signal for users across the country.

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