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Government's fibre investment will do nothing to help rural areas - CLA

Thursday, November 24th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The government’s pledge to invest more than £1bn in fibre broadband and 5G offers little comfort to rural communities with poor connectivity, an association representing rural businesses has said.

Chancellor Philip Hammond, in his first Autumn Statement, announced £400m of funding for a new Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund, which will help speed up the rollout of fibre to the premises (FTTP) broadband in the UK.

The announcement has been welcomed by the majority of broadband providers but Ross Murray, president of the CLA (Country Landowners Association), said it is hard to see how rural businesses fit into the Chancellor’s vision for Britain.

“The new fund is overly focused on giving city based homes and businesses access to fibre to the premises, hyperfast broadband,” he said.

“There is little comfort in this for rural people still struggling to get minimum connection speeds. Connecting the ‘final 5%’ of rural communities and businesses must remain the priority until the job is done.”

Matthew Hare, chief executive of fibre broadband provider Gigaclear, disagreed, calling the announcement “pro-business, pro-infrastructure [and] pro-fibre”.

“As a company delivering new fibre networks to rural England, this sets the tone for helping Gigaclear to accelerate the rollout of great fibre up and down the country,” he said.

“The relief on business rates for those building new fibre infrastructure from April is, of course, welcome.”

'35% of Brits not covered by basic 3G'

The Chancellor also committed £740m to the development of 5G, the next generation of mobile network technology.

But Alix Murphy, director of mobile partnerships at money transfer firm WorldRemit, said the government shouldn’t be prioritising 5G when more than a third of Brits still don’t have access to 3G.

“In the long term, investing £740m for 5G could cement Britain’s reputation as Europe’s tech capital – supporting R&D and the development of new breakthrough technologies like wearable tech and artificial intelligence,” she said.

“However, before investing in ambitious 5G technology plans, the government should prioritise spending this money where it matters most, on those 35% of Brits who are not even covered by basic 3G mobile broadband and struggle to get reasonable speeds.”

Sky’s chief operating officer, Andrew Griffith, said the government’s announcement “chimes with our view that the future is full fibre”.

But he warned: “We won’t achieve the necessary step change in driving full fibre investment across the country unless Ofcom also takes bold and decisive action on the future of Openreach.”

Hyperoptic CEO Dana Tobak said investing in FTTP was a “no-brainer” and called on the government to be “more aggressive” on its broadband targets.

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