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Tories promise another £5 billion to fuel fibre and 5G drive

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has suggested an additional £5 billion will be made available for connectivity upgrades.

Although it has been tricky to confirm any of the details, it has been reported the Tories will search for an additional £5 billion to fulfil the fanciful promises Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been making in the connectivity domain.

Speaking to the press office at the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we were told that as this is a political matter they are not involved. Over at the Conservative Party press office, the team said they were not in a position to make any official confirmation just yet (at the time of writing).

Although this is part of a wider infrastructure message, including other areas such as road schemes and bus services, Javid has suggested the £5 billion would be used to ensure a digital divide is not created as roll-out of full-fibre, 5G and other gigabit capable networks steps-up a level.

“We want to make sure that we’re upgrading across the country, much of that can be done by the market which is a great thing,” Javid said during a Twitter message.

“But what I’m specifically focusing on today is the hardest parts of the country, some of the more rural areas and trying to make sure that no-one in this country is left out. We want to level up and make sure everyone gets the benefit of new, modern infrastructure.”

This is a common message from both the Government and the connectivity providers. There has been notable work over the last couple of years to ensure there is a fair and reasonable deployment of future-proof infrastructure. Although the telcos will be more drawn to investments in the more densely populated areas, this approach to drive ROI will not sit easily with the Government.

The Universal Service Obligation (USO) has been designed to ensure everyone across the UK has a clear, enforceable right to request high speed broadband, while the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme offers £740 million from the National Productivity Investment Fund to entice interest in the rural communities from the private market.

Looking at the mobile side, with the release and auction of new spectrum, coverage obligations are placed on the telcos. Following the Connected Nations 2018 report, the Government has committed to extend 4G geographic mobile network coverage to 95% of the UK by 2022. As part of the 700 MHz spectrum allocation, industry has to commit to at least 500 new mobile mast stations in rural areas to improve coverage.

Details are relatively thin for the moment, though this will be taken as a minor positive by the telcos.

In promising full-fibre coverage by 2025, PM Johnson was mocked by industry. To achieve such a feat, BT has suggested the industry would have to find an additional £30 billion in CAPEX, and industry would not be keen to fund this alone. £5 billion from Javid is a start, though considering this is to be spread across both fixed and mobile, there will have to be a few more of these announcements in the pipeline.

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