During the Conservative Party Conference, Chancellor Sajid Javid pledged £5 billion for gigabit broadband in every home by 2025.
Standing on the steps of Downing Street following his election in July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the rollout of gigabit broadband one of his key pledges. The chancellor has now committed public money to help achieve Johnson’s pledge.
"We are setting out plans to invest £5bn to support the rollout of full-fibre, 5G and other gigabit-capable networks to the hardest-to-reach 20 percent of the country," it says in a press release.
The £5 billion will be invested to help support the rollout of gigabit broadband in challenging parts of the country.
In the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review last year, commissioned by former PM Theresa May, an “ambitious target” of 2033 was set for full-fibre. The review said, “additional funding of around £3bn to £5bn [will be needed] to support commercial investment in the final 10 percent of areas".
Johnson called the target “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.”
With today’s commitment, Javid has now provided the upper-tier of the funding called for in last year’s review while doubling the aim for it to support the final 10 percent of areas to 20 percent.
Sajid Javid MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:
“Investment in our infrastructure will be key to making the next decade one of renewal – boosting our economy and making life easier for people all across the country.
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.
This will make the UK a better place to live and work, extending opportunity and raising living standards for all.”
Some observers believe the increased pace of the rollout will lead to a greater cost. BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, for example, likens it to “asking your builder to finish that extension by Christmas, not next summer.”
However, it’s notable how there’s been some watering-down of the language used about the pledge. While Johnson initially spoke of “full-fibre” that has recently changed to “gigabit broadband”.
Ensuring every household and business has access to gigabit broadband speeds is more achievable with 5G and technologies like Virgin Media’s DOCSIS 3.1 included. A rollout of FTTP (Fibre-to-the-Premises) to every property in the UK would be far more challenging, costly, and take much longer.
While easier, it still won’t be simple to achieve Johnson’s target. Procurements and legal obstacles can take two years to sort and training of new engineers will need to be vastly ramped up to handle such a rapid deployment.
Elsewhere, Javid has pledged £4.3bn in 2019/20 and £16.6bn over its lifetime to reassure businesses, universities, charities and others that all EU programme funding will be matched by the UK government once that money currently sent to Brussels is back in British coffers after Brexit.
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