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Experts disappointed by ‘little reference’ to broadband in budget

Thursday, July 9th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Experts have voiced their disappointment at the absence of broadband in yesterday’s budget, saying Britain must do more to develop its digital infrastructure.

Telecoms and broadband did not appear to get a mention in Chancellor George Osborne’s speech in the Commons, and the budget itself only appeared to contain one brief reference to the subject, regarding the south west.

Oliver Johnson, CEO of market intelligence firm Point Topic, said it was disappointing that telecoms, and broadband in particular did not really get a mention.

“There’s a lot more to do, particularly for business coverage at the moment,” he told Cable.co.uk.

“There are quite a number of initiatives underway or under discussion though and some will even have budget.”

The government has set a target of bringing superfast broadband (speeds of 24Mbps and above) to 90% of the UK by 2016, extending coverage to 95% by the end of 2017.

Mr Johnson said more progress is likely to be made, with money being spent – though "never enough" – to address the final 5% who will not benefit from the rollout.

“We rank reasonably well in Europe for fixed, there’s the hope of a universal service obligation of 5Mbps, some of the digital divide is being closed.

“So again the UK gets a passing grade but we’re not living up to our potential.”

David Cullen, director of strategy for infrastructure company ITS Technology Group, said there was little reference to digital and broadband, despite digital infrastructure being criticial to the UK becoming a “leader on the world stage”.

ITS Technology, which builds fibre and wireless networks as well as running IT services, is behind several projects, including networks in Knowsley, Derby, Leeds, Liverpoool, London, and Cumbria community broadband project FibreGarDen.

'Mountain to climb'

Mr Cullen said: “The chancellor's pre-election budget demonstrated the government's commitment to long term investment into digital infrastructure, which is critical to this country becoming a leader on the world stage (though it still has a mountain to climb to reach this goal).

“But having listened to the chancellor's summer budget, I was somewhat disappointed that there was little reference to digital and broadband. “

He said broadband infrastructure would continue to play “a vital role” in making sure the UK can build a stronger economy.

“Enabling the digital economy in this way will allow a faster, more tangible and sustainable contribution to growing the UK's economy than other major infrastructure projects the government is involved in; and the benefits will be felt for generations to come.”

While Mr Osborne’s speech contained little mention of broadband, there was a reference in the budget to a £10m funding boost to support connectivity in the South West.

It said: "To support connectivity in the South West, the government will allocate up to £10m to the broadband programme from April 2016.

“The fund will be available for local projects to bid into, with priority given to those delivering ultrafast speeds of 100mbps and above.

“Broadband Delivery UK will start working with local projects immediately to determine the most effective way of delivering this support."

It is unclear whether the cash is connected to recent concerns over the failure of the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) superfast broadband programme to agree a contract with BT for phase two of its rollout.

Before the General Election the Conservative Party promised to deliver “the most comprehensive and cheapest superfast broadband coverage of any major European country”.

The party’s manifesto set out a £100bn investment in infrastructure, including broadband and mobile and said ultrafast broadband – speeds of 100Mbps or more – should be available to “nearly all UK premises as soon as practicable”.

It also reiterated the Conservatives’ aim of delivering superfast broadband – speeds of at least 24Mbps – to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017.

The document said the Tories would provide rural Britain with “near universal superfast broadband” by 2020 and pledged to boost the UK’s mobile coverage.

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