No Mention of Broadband as UK Commits GBP100bn to Infrastructure - ISPreview UK
The Government’s money man, George Osborne, has today launched a new “independent body” called the National Infrastructure Commission that will oversee some £100 billion of infrastructure spending by 2020, but you’ll struggle to find any mention of broadband connectivity.

The new commission, which is being led by former Cabinet minister Lord Adonis, will focus on long term strategic decision making and aim to build “effective and efficient infrastructure” for the United Kingdom. As part of that the commission must conduct an assessment of the UK’s infrastructure needs every 5 years, looking 30 years ahead and examining the evidence across all sectors.

Officially those sectors include energy, roads, rail transport, ports and airports, water supply, waste, flood defences, digital and broadband. However a quick look at today’s commitment of £100bn, which is to be invested over the next 4-5 years, suggests that the Government aren’t leaving much over for radically improving Internet connectivity beyond the existing strategy.

Some £15bn is set to go on the Roads Investment Strategy and related projects in London and the “North“, with much of the rest likely to be sucked up by railway schemes (e.g. HS2, HS3, Crossrail 2 etc.) and energy projects (e.g. new power plans etc.).

George Osborne said:

British people have to spend longer than they should getting to work, pay more than they should in energy bills and can’t buy the houses they want because of the failure of successive governments to think long-term.

Infrastructure isn’t some obscure concept – it’s about people’s lives, economic security and the sort of country we want to live in. That’s why I am determined to shake Britain out of its inertia on infrastructure and end the situation where we trail our rivals when it comes to building everything from the housing to the power stations that our children will need.

This is about jobs, growth, living standards and ensuring Britain is fit for the future. We must be the builders. At the Spending Review, I will commit to investing £100bn in infrastructure over the next five years and we are creating an independent commission to give us a long-term, unbiased analysis of the country’s major infrastructure needs.

We need to think long-term and deliver a cross-party consensus on what we need to build. I am delighted Andrew Adonis and this world-class group of experts have agreed to come together on the National Infrastructure Commission to help us do that
As for broadband, it doesn’t even get a mention in today’s announcement. Mind you that’s hardly a surprise as the Broadband Delivery UK programme has so far helped to push around £1.7bn of public investment towards the goal of making fixed line superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds available to 95% of premises by 2017/18. Not to mention the various planned improvements to mobile coverage, some of which have struggled (here).

Furthermore it is widely expected that the Government will finalise their strategy and or funding for bringing that same connectivity to the final 5% of premises during next month’s joint Spending Review and Autumn Statement on 25th November 2015, which is likely to involve a mix of Satellite and possibly other alternative network solutions (e.g. fixed wireless).

As part of that we might also see a Universal Service Obligation (USO) being adopted for minimum broadband speeds of around 5-10Mbps (here and here). But today’s announcement suggests that anybody still retaining the forlorn hope of a grand focus to deliver 100% coverage of “ultra-fast” (100Mbps+) speeds may be disappointed, with most of the work on that front being left up to the private sector and its predominantly limited urban focus (e.g. BT’s 300-500Mbps and Virgin Media’s cable roll-out).

It’s worth pointing out that today’s £100bn commitment isn’t actually all that new either because strictly speaking it still forms part of the original £310bn National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), which was first touted all the way back in 2010.

But who knows, it’s still possible that the Government might pull a rabbit out of their hat next month, although hopefully that won’t take the more radical form of a controversial new tax on Internet providers (here). It’s also possible that any big announcements may end up being saved until Budget 2016, but this seems unlikely as the Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, has previously promised to reveal their strategy this autumn (here).

List of the Commissioners:

  • Lord Heseltine – the former deputy prime minister who has long championed the regeneration of Britain’s inner cities through infrastructure investment
  • Sir John Armitt – the former chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, and next year’s President of the Institute of Civil Engineers
  • Professor Tim Besley – a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and the LSE’s Growth Commission, which recommended an independent infrastructure body
  • Demis Hassabis – artificial intelligence researcher, neuroscientist and head of DeepMind Technologies
  • Sadie Morgan – a founding director of dRMM Architects and Design Panel Chair of HS2
  • Bridget Rosewell – a senior adviser at Volterra and former Chief Economist and Chief Economic Adviser to the Greater London Authority
  • Sir Paul Ruddock – chairman of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the University of Oxford Endowment