Procurement · 8 March 2017

Spring Budget 2017: New funding for businesses to access full-fibre broadband

Funding for fibre broadband
Funding for full-fibre broadband

The government is set to invest £200m into local projects to leverage private sector investment into full-fibre broadband networks.

The investment was announced today by chancellor Phillip Hammond during the Spring Budget. He claimed that “investment in training, and investment in infrastructure” will improve the UK’s productivity levels.

As of this year the £200m will be used to fund a programme of local projects to test ways to accelerate market delivery of new full-fibre broadband networks. As part of the programme, businesses will be offered full-fibre broadband connection vouchers to increase take-up of services where new networks are built through the programme.

Lee Hopley, chief economist at the manufacturers’ organisation, EEF, claimed that manufacturers attach a high degree of importance to internet connectivity and have been vocal about the impact on their businesses of using unreliable copper broadband networks.

“The chancellor’s announcement that a fibre network will be built by leveraging public sector buildings to serve as anchor customers will help improve the viability and feasibility of new fibre infrastructure, supporting the building of a reliable, resilient and world-class fibre spine across the country,” she said.

“Genuinely building out a fibre network alternative across the country will come at an increased cost, the decision to rerun the business voucher scheme will support building strategic connections over longer geographic distances, as long as the value of the voucher is increased to reflect this.”

A recent survey carried out by Informi showed that there are still too many areas where broadband provision is substandard, which the company deemed “unacceptable” given the UK’s stature as one of the richest in the world.

Darren Nicholls, product manager at Informi, said: “Small business owners will welcome the news that they can receive full-fibre broadband vouchers. This should help businesses who struggle to get fast connections and a suitable broadband service in their area.”

The programme will also aim to:
• Bring together local public sector customers, to create enough broadband demand to reduce the financial risk of building new full-fibre networks
• Directly connect public sector buildings, such as schools and hospitals, to bring fibre closer to more homes and businesses, allowing them to be connected
• Open up public sector assets, such as existing ducts, to allow fibre to be laid more cheaply.

Digging deeper into the Spring Budget document, Andrew Ferguson, editor of thinkbroadband.com, said the paperwork does include an ultrafast broadband voucher scheme, but it is of “limited scope” as the vouchers will only be available for businesses where the pure fibre network has been rolled out locally as part of the wider £200m market test scheme.

“Demand aggregation seems to be the key to what the Government is hoping the £200m will deliver, and with public and large business acting as key tenants that small businesses and residents will benefit.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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