UK launches £400m fund to boost fibre broadband
It's hoped the cash will give customers more alternatives for fibre broadband
The government has officially launched its promised 400 million Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund, designed to help boost the UK's fibre internet capabilities.
The plans were first unveiled last year during Chancellor Philip Hammond's Autumn Budget speech, which will be backed by private investors to bring the total to 800 million.
Speaking at its launch event on Monday, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Andrew Jones said the fund would ensure the UK is "match-fit for the future" and remains at the "front of the pack" in terms of digital infrastructure.
"Gone will be the days where parents working from home see their emails grind to a halt while a family member is gaming or streaming Game of Thrones in the next room," said Jones. "Full fibre will provide us with the better broadband we need to ensure we can work flexibly and productively, without connections failing."
A priority of the fund will be to ensure 'full-fibre' rollout, addressing the current limitations with fibre connections, which are still reliant on a copper wire connection between a street-level cabinet and the customer's door.
The government claims that the tech has been difficult to finance in the past due to a "lack of certainty around future demand", saying that has led to a lack of alternative providers entering the market. For the most part, incumbent telecoms provider BT has opted for fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) rather than fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), with rivals complaining about the price of access to its infrastructure to lay their own fibre. That access is offered via its Openreach division, which is now set to be spun off. Further plans from regulator Ofcom look set to make it easier and cheaper for rival ISPs to access Openreach's infrastructure.
BT has committed to laying ten million full-fibre lines by 2025, although its plans are vague in terms of how much this will cost to build, the prices customers are likely to face, and what areas will receive the most investment.
It is also unclear exactly what will be deemed "fast", as there is currently no indication of target speeds. A scathing report published in December by Ofcom revealed that 1.4 million homes and businesses were still unable to access broadband speeds of over 10Mbit/s, considered the baseline for digital household needs.
The fund will be managed by investment firms Amber Fund Management, which is part of the Amber Infrastructure Group, and M&G Investments, part of Prudential PLC. The government has advised those interested in the fund to contact the management firms directly.
Giles Frost, CEO of Amber Infrastructure, said: "We are delighted to be partnering with HM Treasury and look forward to helping the community of businesses building the next generation of digital networks to scale up and accelerate the rollout of ultrafast connectivity across the UK."