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Budget 2018: Hammond Announces Massive Investment for Rural Broadband Expansion

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Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in his 2018 Budget on Monday that rural areas will be the targeted with a fund of “at least” £250m to give access to “full fibre” internet.

The chancellor reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to ensure that rural businesses and farmers are to be integrated with the rest of the country, saying: "for the 21st century, broadband is to roads in the 20th, railways in the 19th, and canals in the 18th. It's the network infrastructure that will make this country work."

This is especially pertinent to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which made eight key pleas for the 2018 budget. These included calling for Government to address the lack of superfast broadband access in rural areas.

The NFU pleas made reference to the acute need for government support, as farmers face volatility and uncertainty in the lead up to Brexit and beyond.

NFU Vice President, Stuart Roberts said: "Fast rural broadband is essential for our forward-thinking and dynamic farming industry, especially as we approach exiting the European Union."

The NFU demanded that the Government "ensure the roll out of superfast broadband to all farmers, growers and rural communities, alongside complete mobile phone coverage at a reasonable cost."

This comes after a survey conducted in summer last year, which noted that fewer than 10% of farmers could report that they receive broadband speeds of 24Mbps or more. A mere 15% had a reliable phone signal across the farm outdoors.

A paper by researchers at the University of Newcastle notes that predominantly rural areas in England contribute at least £237 billion a year directly to the economy. However, national and local policymaking have often left these areas behind, despite the fact that rural areas across the UK have the potential to make an even greater financial contribution.

Jeremy Chelot, CEO of Community Fibre, quoted recent Ofcom research that found that the average household “is doubling its data consumption every two years, be it watching online video or accessing government services, and so adequate fibre broadband is swiftly becoming vital.”

He noted that “as the majority of the connections in the UK are still copper-based, it is evident that the UK is not yet fully prepared for the digital future.”

The upgrade to copper wiring is “Full fibre”, which describes an internet connection carried by a fibre optic cable going directly between from the exchange to your house. This can also be described as “Fibre To The Premises” (FTTP).

The Budget announced that the Government intends to deliver this type of “full fibre” broadband to 15 million UK premises by 2025, and has expressed hope that there will be universal coverage by 2023.

Paul Stobart, the CEO of Zen Internet, warned that “ the Government can’t stop here if it wants to fulfil its pledge of making access to high-speed broadband a legal right for everyone by 2020.” He suggested that that the funding may be insufficient for such ambitions, but noted that “we certainly hope that this investment is a catalyst for a more digitally harmonious Britain.”