Budget 2012: Osborne Sets Out Ultrafast Broadband Plans

Chancellor of the Exchequer emphasises UK’s need for world-beating broadband infrastructure

In today’s budget, the Chancellor George Osborne detailed funding for ultrafast broadband and Wi-Fi for 10 cities across the UK, with sights set on making the country “the technological hub of Europe”.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer used his 2012 Budget speech to confirm the six other cities that would join London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh in the £100 million broadband push announced in the 2011 Autumn Statement.

Super-connected cities

By 2015, the government aims to deliver ultrafast coverage to 1.7 million homes and 200,000 businesses in Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Newcastle in addition to the previously named cities. These “super-connected cities” will provide broadband speeds of 80-100Mbps to three million people.

Osborne added that £50 million would be used to fund another 10 smaller super-connected cities.

Increased rural and mobile connectivity also formed part of the agenda as plans to extend mobile coverage to 60,000 countryside homes and at least ten key roads by 2015 were announced.

“The Government will also consider whether direct intervention is required to improve mobile coverage for rail passengers.”

The Chancellor emphasised technology as an area of marked growth in the UK economy but stated that an improved infrastructure was vital for said growth to continue. He expressed a desire to make the UK a world-leader in broadband, highlighting South Korea as an exemplary country. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group revealed that the UK’s internet economy is larger than any other G20 nation, suggesting that a better broadband network would be of great benefit.

It’s not enough

However, critics of the government’s broadband plans quickly emerged following the Budget speech to challenge what they saw as a misdirected or paltry investment.

“We are £1.1 billion short of reaching ‘superfast’ broadband for the UK, let alone ‘ultrafast’. That will not make us competitive in Europe, let alone the rest of the world,” said Morag Lucey, senior vice president of smart revenue solutions at Convergys. “What’s more, [the government] expects telecommunications providers to bridge this £1.1 billion broadband funding gap. This half-hearted approach to funding broadband infrastructure short-changes the British economy and British society.”

“Whilst funding earmarked for ultrafast broadband in 10 UK cities is both ambitious and heartening, and will undoubtedly benefit technology companies looking to develop and expand in the UK, the primary concern should be the provision of a quality service to rural areas before pursuing the title of fastest broadband in the world,” said director of telecoms at uSwitch.com, Julia Stent.

“The government’s chief concern should be the provision of a service to those areas lacking decent broadband infrastructure before pursuing the likes of Korea and Singapore.”

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