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UK budget: Rural areas to benefit from ultra-fast broadband five years early

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to confirm plans to invest £5bn into faster broadband as set out in last year's Conservative manifesto

In what could be one of the most important budgets of recent years, chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to confirm plans to invest £5bn into faster broadband as set out in the Conservative manifesto. 

 The investment, as it was outlined in October, would support the rollout of gigabit broadband in the “hardest to reach 20% of the country”, which doubled the government’s previous commitment to reaching the hardest 10%. Previous government timelines had also set this target to be met by 2030, but this has reportedly been brought forward to 2025.

Sunak is also expected to reveal more details about the government’s £1bn deal to boost 4G coverage across the UK, with a particular focus in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. This deal will see the UK’s mobile networks coming together to solve the problem of signal “not spots” found in rural areas. 

The expedited gigabit broadband rollout is forecasted to benefit the UK’s 5.6 million small and medium-sized businesses, “improving their productivity and ensuring they are not held back by poor infrastructure.”

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Small and medium-sized businesses account for 60% of private sector employment and more than half of business revenues and this boost to the economy, rather than just the boost to residents and consumers, is said to be behind the plans to speed up the rollout. 

Virgin Media has been the most aggressive in its rollout of gigabit broadband in recent months. Since September, thousands of homes across Southampton, Reading, Manchester have been added to the network and Virgin Media plans to extend this further over the coming year.

This Gig1 service, running through its Hub 4 router, offers an average peak-time download speed of 1,104Mbits/sec and up to 52Mbits/sec upload speeds, according to Virgin Media and as measured by the website Download-Time.

This makes it more than 20 times faster than the average UK broadband download speed of 54.2Mbits/sec. At these speeds, an ultra-high definition 4K film could be downloaded in seconds.

‘We are committed to levelling up across every region and nation in the UK, and that is why we are making the largest ever public investment into broadband,” Sunak said ahead of his Budget speech on Wednesday. “This investment delivers on our promises to the British people, boosting growth and prosperity across the country.”

Beyond broadband, Sunak will also outline measures to help businesses survive the fallout of coronavirus, and has promised to give the NHS “whatever it needs” to cope with the outbreak.

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