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LGA: Broadband funding boost welcome, but must not neglect rural areas

The government has committed to investing over £1bn by 2021 in rolling out full-fibre connections and building on future 5G communications, Phillip Hammond announced in this week’s Autumn Statement.

The chancellor declared that the measures, supported by £740m from the government’s new National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), will bring faster and more reliable broadband to homes and businesses across the UK and keep the country as pioneers of mobile connectivity.

The measures will include a £400m Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF), matched by private finance, to invest in new fibre networks until 2020, and a 100% relief on business rates for full-fibre infrastructure from 2017 to 2022.

“Our future transport, business and lifestyle needs will require world class digital infrastructure to underpin them, so my ambition is for the UK to be a world leader in 5G,” said Hammond during his Autumn Statement.

“That means a full-fibre network; a step-change in speed, security and reliability. So we will invest over £1bn in our digital infrastructure to catalyse private investment in fibre networks and to support 5G trials.”

Other measures announced by the government to boost the UK’s digital infrastructure included working in partnership with local areas to invest in a fibre ‘spine’ across the UK, and funding a co-ordinated programme of integrated fibre and 5G trials. Further details about the programme will be set out in the 2017 Budget.

The LGA welcomed the announcement of the DIIF although advised that the benefits of faster and more reliable digital connectivity must reach more isolated areas where local councils have been forced to work with alternative network providers.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: “Access to fast and reliable digital connectivity is increasingly a necessity for households and businesses right across the UK. While the announcement of new investment for digital infrastructure is good news, government must not lose sight of the needs of rural communities already struggling to receive a basic broadband service.”

He added that councils working with the alternative network provider sector have made a real difference to people’s lives, connecting communities in some of the most challenging areas where larger suppliers were not prepared to go.

“To fully benefit these communities [the DIIF] will need to encourage new entrants to the market with the ambition to work outside the low-hanging fruit of better connected areas,” said Cllr Hawthorne.

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