The 2017 Budget had people listening in waiting for some news on ultrafast broadband vouchers but as of 1:20pm nothing has appeared and now at 1:40pm we can see that a voucher scheme is part of budget. The Chancellor announced in his speech a fund of £200m as part of UK Infrastructure investment to go towards local broadband projects that are seeking to deliver pure fibre (Fibre to the Premises).
Update 1:40pm The speech has finished which means the full paperwork has been released and thus we can see more detail of what is planned.
"4.16 The NPIF provides the financial backbone to the government’s Industrial Strategy, and will:
- support market roll-out of the fast and reliable full-fibre connections that will help businessesto grow
- tackle congestion and ensure the UK’s transport networks are fit for the future
- enhance the UK’s position at the forefront of technological progress globally
- accelerate new housing supply
4.20 Full-fibre broadband – Starting in 2017, the government will invest £200 million to fund a programme of local projects to test ways to accelerate market delivery of new full-fibre broadband networks. These will combine the following approaches:
- bringing together local public sector customers, to create enough broadband demand to reduce the financial risk of building new full-fibre networks
- offering full-fibre broadband connection vouchers for businesses, to increase take-up of services where new networks are built through the programme
- directly connecting public sector buildings, such as schools and hospitals. This will bring fibrecloser to more homes and businesses, allowing them to be connected
- opening up public sector assets, such as existing ducts, to allow fibre to be laid more cheaply"Extracts from 2017 Spring Budget
The wording about the £200m being ways to test ways of accelerating market delivery suggests the Government is not keen to go down an ultrafast BDUK scheme route and wants to try and kickstart the commercial market to go as far as possible, be that in urban or rural areas of the UK.
Ultrafast broadband vouchers for businesses is a key change and may prove a good way of increasing take-up for networks, but this seems to only apply to networks built via the £200m programme, so if an operator comes to your business park via purely private means or via a BDUK project the voucher scheme would not apply. It is also likely that the time for demand aggregation passed some years ago, commercial Operators such as CityFibre now dominate in 42 cities, and aggregation works best in areas with large number of public assets, rather than small rural villages where the nearest thing to a public asset may be the local village hall.
At the end of the day £200m is not going to propel the UK up the fibre to the premises league tables, but it may be enough to spur more interest from a mixture of commercial, community and local authorities.