UK government announces the re-announcement of the re-announcement of £400m broadband announcement

SUMMARY:

Just in case you missed it the first two times it was announced, the DCMS today re-announces its £400 million broadband investment commitment – along with an interesting, if ungrammatical, name change.

The UK government has announced a new £400 million fund to boost high-speed broadband and fuel the post-Brexit digital economy.

It’s a very exciting announcement.

In fact, it’s so exciting that this is the third time they’ve announced it!

The first time we heard about it was around the time of the Autum Statement in November last year, when Chancellor Philip Hammond announced it.

Then it got another airing back in March this year when the exact same cash was announced in the Spring Budget, again via Hammond.

Today, just to mix it up a bit, it’s the turn of Junior Treasury Minister Andrew Jones, who’s in Peterborough for the latest re-launch where he will state:

We are investing £400 million to make sure the UK’s digital infrastructure is match-fit for the future. As technologies change and people’s habits move with them, it is crucial we play our part to ensure Britain stays at the front of the pack.

Gone will be the days where parents working from home see their emails grind to a halt while a family member is gaming or streaming Game of Thrones in the next room. Full fibre will provide us with the better broadband we need to ensure we can work flexibly and productively, without connections failing.

In politics, the more you say something, the more you manage to convince yourself that something is actually being done it seems. Keep saying the same thing over and over until people believe it. Strong and Stable. Brexit means Brexit. Make America Great Again. Etc etc etc.

Meanwhile my broadband speed in the center of a major city in the UK today hit 1.8 Mbps – which is pretty good for a Monday morning when you’re working from a baseline of basic BT uselessness and indifference.

The one common factor in the three announcements of the same thing has been the consistent cheerleading of Digital Minister Matt Hancock, who today could scarcely contain his excitement on Twitter about this ‘third time lucky’ chance to get some airtime to spin the re-spin:


Although while keen to push the message on Twitter, answers to a specific question have as yet not been forthcoming:


In the absence of a response, I’ll have a stab at the question. What is new about today’s iteration of the funding announcement is that there’s news of the first infrastructure firms tapping into the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund. The claim from the government is that its (our) £400 million spend will release funds of around £1 billion from private investors.

So today International Public Partnerships (INPP), a FTSE 250 infrastructure investment company, has announced the formation of a co-investment vehicle into which it commits £45 million while the taxpayer coughs up £150 million. Rupert Dorey, Chairman of INPP commented:

Digital infrastructure is an exciting new asset class.  Fibre broadband connections are likely to become essential infrastructure assets in the future.  We believe that this commitment offers an early entry point for the company into a sector with clear lineage to the long-term, stable, inflation linked returns of our utility-network assets. INPP will once again benefit from first mover advantage, taking a strong defensive position in an attractive asset class.  This investment also reinforces the Company’s position as a trusted and preferred investment partner to the public sector.

INPP worked with one of two investment firms – Amber Fund Management Limited, part of the Amber Infrastructure Group, and M&G Investments, part of Prudential PLC – to set up the deal. Any firms who want to tap into what’s left of the £400 million need to talk to the Fund Managers directly, not to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport – or as it is now to be known, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Meanwhile in a further leaning on the private sector for help, Hancock’s boss Karen Bradley, Secretary of State at the DCMS, will be chairing the first meeting of the new Digital Economy Council (DEC) today. This has been set up to:

provide a forum for collaboration as Government works with leading industry figures on the implementation of the UK Digital Strategy and the development of a Digital Charter.

So it’s sort of like Donald Trump’s American Technology Council, albeit with fewer big names to date. On board are Google, Facebook, Cisco, Apple and BT, alongside smaller firms such as Dotforge, Coadec and TV Squared. Trade association techUK is also represented.

But conspicuously absent here – so far – are major public sector providers such as Oracle or HP Enterprise. Even the government’s  photo opp firm of choice Microsoft doesn’t appear to be at today’s meeting. UK tech champions, like Sage or UKCloud, are also missing.

Anyway, Bradley will apparently be using this first meeting to:

express her confidence in the UK’s world-leading digital economy and commit to working with other Digital Economy Council members so technology delivers economic growth and prosperity across the whole of the UK, as we prepare to leave the European Union.

My take

It’s a busy day down at the DCMS!

The name change is interesting and a good statement of intent, although I still find it strange that Digital doesn’t sit with a more business or finance-focused department or just belongs to the Cabinet Office, rather than being lumped in with Glynbourne and the World Cup. Or as one wag on Twitter put it:

That said, it’s good to see digital reflected in the name, but can someone please fix the logo and add a second comma, please!!!

I do wish the Digital Economy Council well, but I would hope to see some more big-hitters coming on board at the earliest opportunity. But there are some good names there, not least techUK’s Jacqueline de Rojas who brings over 25 years of tech experience to the table. It’s important that difficult issues are on the agenda, not the least of which must be BT’s lamentable high-speed broadband roll-out and stranglehold on the digital economy.

And while it’s great that the likes of Facebook, Google and Apple are investing in the UK and creating new jobs, let’s make sure that the main focus remains on the growth of a UK digital economy that is built on native talent as well as imported US.

And sorry, but however you slice and dice it, the re-announcing of the re-announcing of the £400 million broadband investment as something new is like an episode of The Thick of It. Sadly much of the mainstream media appears to have picked it up and run with it as a new announcement rather than focusing on the investment fund firm involvement.

So, I imagine, overall, the DCMS will be quite happy today anyway.

Image credit - DCMS/Twitter