BSG Comment: Government pushes towards a Fibre and 5G FutureMatthew Evans
The Government has briefed that it will be unveiling two new programmes in tomorrow’s Autumn Statement to make good on its view that the future is fibre (to the premise variety) and 5G. The BSG welcomes this focus on digital connectivity. All BSG members believe that good quality broadband underpins, drives and improves our society and economy.
Digital Infrastructure Fund
For Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP), the Government will be making public the details of its Digital Infrastructure Fund (DIF), with the public sector seemingly set to commit £400 million of its own money which will be match funded in some way by the private sector – whether this is by private investors or the infrastructure player themselves is not yet clear.
The fund is clearly portrayed as providing a boost to alt nets who are now demonstrating real capacity. Details of a very similar fund known then as the Broadband Investment Fund were consulted on in July of this year which was intended to build on other Government initiatives such as the UK Guarantees Scheme.
For 5G, the Government is also announcing £740m to facilitate the rollout of 5G technology. Details on this are not clear but an element of that funding seems to be competition based with local authorities able to bid for it.
There will undoubtedly be devil in the detail such as the terms of repayment to the DIF or whether spectrum clearance costs are included in the 5G announcement but it also raises some larger questions. How it ties into the long-held view of Government being technology neutral and how this fund is regarded in relation to State Aid?
The biggest question though is how it fits into the UK’s wider digital strategy. Without this wider overarching vision these commitments are piecemeal. Welcome but limited due to their isolation – similar to the revisions to the Electronic Communications Code. The Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy in March 2015 was the last attempt to put together a more cohesive approach. The reason that we need this narrative is to ensure that the whole of Government is pushing in the right direction to ensure that the UK has the infrastructure it needs. There’s no point in DCMS and the Treasury working hard on the Digital Economy Bill and Investment Fund if that is undermined by increases in business rates or planning issues.
Let’s hope that the forthcoming Digital Strategy tackles this to provide industry and investors with the framework to work within for the next cycle of telecoms investment.