Funding promise comes as government seeks full coverage of the UK by fibre, 5G and other ‘gigabit-capable’ networks by 2025
The government has announced a £5 billion investment into rural broadband, in a move that follows earlier broadband promises made by prime minister Boris Johnson.
In June, as he sought the leadership of the Conservative Party, Johnson called the government’s current fibre broadband targets “laughably unambitious“.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “We should commit now to delivering full fibre to every home in the land not in the mid-2030s – but in five years at the outside.”
In last year’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, Theresa May’s government aimed to link 15 million premises to full-fibre broadband by 2025, with 100 percent coverage by 2033.
At the time, the government said an additional £3bn to £5bn would be required to “support commercial investment in the final 10 percent of areas”.
Chancellor Sajid Javid is now expected to promise £5bn in funds aimed at boosting coverage in the final 20 percent, rather than 10 percent of difficult-to-reach areas.
“This doubles the previous commitment to support rollout to the hardest 10 percent,” the government said in a statement.
The statement previews a speech promising as much as £50bn in new infrastructure spending at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester this week.
Further details are to be provided later this year in the National Infrastructure Strategy, the government said.
“We want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class gigabit connectivity no matter where they live or work, so today Conservatives are announcing £5bn to ensure our rural communities benefit too,” said Nicky Morgan, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, on Twitter.
She added that the funds are in addition to the £650m already invested in fibre rollout in the three years to 2021, where rural areas are being prioritised.
“This new multi-billion pound investment to deliver gigabit-capable broadband for all the UK and investment in roads and buses will help people to get around and businesses to grow, ensuring no community is left behind,” Javid is expected to say.
The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) said the funding is “welcomed”, but noted that the spending gap was estimated using the previous 2033 target, not the 2025 goal.
“Considering this level of funding has not taken into account the new 2025 ambition, this puts an even stronger emphasis for the Government to now combine this funding with urgent regulatory reform to the sector,” ISPA stated.
Tim Breitmeyer, president of the Country Land and Business Association, called for the government to provide more details on its plans.
“What’s needed now is for the ambitions of this announcement to be matched by detailed and technical work with broadband providers and mobile operators to turn this into a reality,” he said.