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Boosting UK productivity: Government pledges "world-class digital infrastructure"

3 min read

10 July 2015

The "Fixing the Foundations" plan, published by the chancellor, and launched by business secretary Sajid Javid, made a point of acknowledging that "reliable and high-quality" fixed and mobile broadband connections "support growth in productivity, efficiency and labour force participation" across the economy.

Angela Merkel has criticised David Cameron the UK’s slow progress with rolling out broadband and it features among the key aims of the productivity plan.

For businesses, fast broadband is integral to establishing more efficient business processes, as well as the ever-important access to new markets. The government also reflected on the gradual shift in working patterns, with better digital infrastructure supporting flexible working and remote working.

Investment here will support long-term economic growth, with GVA increasing by £6.5bn, aiming for a net increase of 20,000 UK jobs by 2024.

The plan is to have superfast broadband rolled out in the next few years – superfast speeds of at least 24Mbps will be available to 95 per cent of UK households by 2017.

The government said that geographic coverage and take-up of superfast broadband in the UK is the highest of the five largest EU economies, and “Fixing the Foundations” will aim to support that further by “reducing regulatory red tape and barriers to investment”.

Its pledges in the plan included extended permitted development rights to taller mobile masts in both protected and non-protected areas in England and introducing legislation to reform the Electronic Communications Code.

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The Conservatives will consult later this year on implementation of the EU Directive on measures to reduce the cost of deploying high-speed communications networks and considering making the 2013 planning relaxations that supported fixed high speed broadband infrastructure rollout, permanent.

The government hopes these measures will make it cheaper and easier for providers to build the infrastructure UK businesses need. It has also implemented a new model for the centralised management of the public sector spectrum, acknowledging electromagnetic spectrum “is a valuable and scarce resource”.

If successful, the rollout should help businesses which were at risk of being left behind due to a disadvantageous location.

However, the remaining five per cent may remain concerned. A report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in February found that rural businesses farms and homes were being overlooked by the £1bn Broadband Delivery project.

Committee chair Anne McIntosh said: “People living in the hard-to-reach five per cent need the same access as the rest to online and digital services.”

She added that the rollout targets were based on “inaccurate assumptions” that universal basic broadband coverage had been largely achieved when many rural communities were still struggling with “no access or slow speeds”.

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