Reappointed culture minister says digital programmes, 5G and broadband investment will go ahead despite political uncertainty
Returning Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has promised to continue with the government’s ambition of delivering ‘full’ fibre, 5G and minimum guaranteed broadband speeds.
Hancock was re-elected in last week’s General Election and kept his job in the subsequent cabinet reshuffle. Having replaced Ed Vaizey in 2016, Hancock initiated a stepchange in the department’s strategy while the government sees technology as a key pillar of the post-Brexit economy.
However the shock result of last week’s vote, in which Prime Minister Theresa May was expected to be handed an increased majority, has caused uncertainty. Despite this, Hancock said the Conservative’s digital agenda would be unaffected.
Read More: What does election result mean for tech?
“The assurance I can give you with the return of a Conservative government, myself as minister of culture and Karen Bradley as secretary of state is we have our feet firmly under the table,” he told Connected Britain in London.
“We are clearly committed to strengthening the UK’s position as a world leading digital economy and it is cornerstone of our economic and social development. We’re committed to affordable high speed connectivity to ever business and home.”
Hancock said the mission would be to push existing technologies like copper as far as they could go while futureproofing national infrastructure with fibre to the premise (FTTP). He said the government’s Digital infrastructure investment Fund would invest a share of £400 million and that it would also press ahead with plans for a universal service obligation (USO).
The USO was described in the Digital Economy Act, the last piece of legislation to be rushed through before Parliament was dismissed before the election, and would allow anyone in the UK to demand 10Mbps broadband as a minimum.
Opposition parties and campaigners have said this is too low, but secondary legislation would allow it to be increased over time.
“Broadband connectivity was frequently raised during [the election] in rural areas,” added Hancock. “As government services move online, we have a duty that everyone has the opportunity to connect.”
But Hancock was adamant that it was the government’s responsibility to ensure there was a framework in which the private sector was willing to invest as 5G arrives ever closer. He said it would ensure Ofcom (which he called energy regulator Ofgem) and government legislation making it easier to build mobile infrastructure.
“It is crucial to ensure it is economic for industry to invest and that we remove barriers that make that investment more expensive,” he said, noting that the government had already promised 100 percent business rate relief for FTTP investment over the next five years.
Hancock also said he would participate in the EU’s Electronic Communications Code reforms until the UK leaves the bloc, although he couldn’t attend a meeting on Friday due to the election campaign.
This would appease critics in the industry who say it is too expensive and bureucratic to upgrade masts, build new ones or install small cells that will be key for 5G.
“There’s a whole series of strands of work but it is united behind the goal of improving connectivity, whether its fixed, mobile or a combination of the two,” he concluded. “I welcome the scale of support from the industry.”
“I’m delighted to be back”