The UK government has launched the Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) Challenge Fund, a £190 million initiative to stimulate commercial investment in full fibre networks across the UK.
The aim here will be to demonstrate approaches that encourage additional private investment and by making sustainable commercial deployments viable. Key public buildings will be open to gigabit capable connections with the expectation that this leads to broadband providers creating additional connections to local homes and businesses.
Most connections in the UK would only be considered part-fibre, with fibre trenched to the cabinet and the last mile being copper. Penetration of full-fibre connections in the UK is roughly 2%, which is obviously a disastrous number when compared countries like Spain, which has FTTH connections north of 50%. Obviously the government would like to fix this.
“World class connectivity is increasingly essential to people at work and at home” said Matt Hancock, Minister for Digital. “It’s vital to ensure the UK’s future competitiveness in the global market and our ability to attract investment. Full fibre is fundamental for fashioning a Britain fit for the future.”
The funding itself will be available through the £31 billion National Productivity Investment Fund which, as you can imagine, is aimed at improving productivity. In the £31 billion, there has already been £740 million earmarked specifically for improving Britain’s digital infrastructure, though where else this funding has been promised remains to be seen.
The money itself will be available any public sector body, or group of public bodies in the UK, which includes all tiers of local government and other public sector bodies. That said, there are the traditional hoops to jump through before you can get your hands on the funding. Firstly, you have to have a viable plan using delivery methods which clearly support the Programme’s aims, while also demonstrating funding such connectivity projects would not be possible without help, and showing that you have support from the local politician and your management team.
That said, if you already have support from the management team, you would presumably have some sort of budget allocated towards the project, therefore you would not qualify for the grant because you have money. It’s all a little bit complicated.
What we have here is another bit of government posturing. £190 million certainly sounds like a lot of money, and it certainly is, but realistically it is spare-change when you look at the total bill of fibre connectivity throughout the UK. Assuming the local authorities figure out how to get hold of the cash, it is a step in the right direction, but let’s not get too carried away.