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Osborne announces £100m investment for super-fast city broadband

Chancellor wants to create technology hubs to foster innovation and help drag the UK economy out of the doldrums

By Steve Evans

London broadband investment
London will be one of the cities to benefit from improved broadband access

The government has promised to deliver improved broadband and wireless services across 10 UK cities, which Chancellor George Osborne hopes will become technology hubs that will drive innovation and growth for the UK.

In his autumn statement Osborne announced £5bn of spending on infrastructure services such as roads, railways and broadband access, for which £100m has been set aside.

The first four beneficiaries of the increased investment will be London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff, with the remaining six technology hubs being revealed at a later date, although it is fair to assume the likes of Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow could be included.

The government wants to create "super-fast" cities, with broadband connections of between 80Mbps to 100Mbps and high-speed, resilient Wi-Fi access across these cities. The move will help the government with its stated aim of bringing super-fast broadband to 90% of the UK population.

Speaking to the Commons, Chancellor George Osborne said improving Internet infrastructure across the UK is vital if we are to remain a competitive force across the world.

"[This] means creating new super-fast digital networks for companies across our country. These do not exist today. See what countries like China or Brazil are building, and you’ll also see why we risk falling behind the rest of the world. Our great cities are at the heart of our regional economies. And we will help bring world leading, super-fast broadband and Wi-Fi connections to 10 of them – including the capitals of all four nations," he said.

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The focus for the improved infrastructure will be on small and medium businesses (SMBs) Osborne said, which has unsurprisingly received a positive reaction from tech companies in that space.

"We welcome the fact that the Chancellor has finally recognised the enormous benefit SMEs provide to the UK economy. The improvements in broadband funding and coverage will improve access to high quality communications infrastructure which is one of the keys to the success of SMEs and will bring the UK up to the level of other European counterparts," said Michael Stephens, general manager for UK and Ireland at UC LifeSize, in a statement.

BT also welcomed the announcements. In a statement the telecoms firm said: "This is a positive initiative that will help ensure our major cities have the best available super-fast broadband. BT is already upgrading large parts of these cities under its commercial rollout plan and these funds could help us go further. We look forward to working closely with the selected cities to see what can be achieved."

Neil Stephenson, CEO of data centre infrastructure and services provider Onyx Group, added: "the new investment in next generation super fast broadband infrastructure and mobile will improve access to infrastructure and also allow people to work from home – especially important for more rural areas such as the North East and Scotland. Importantly, this will also help the growth of cloud and hosted services which rely on super fast connectivity."

Osborne also announced he would open up more government data on the improved infrastructure – such as rail and roads – to encourage developers to write applications for smartphones.

Charles Race, VP Northern Europe at Informatica, said: "This injection of data resource will undoubtedly deliver a boost to business. But in order for this initiative to bear fruit, it’s essential that the government ensures that in opening up the windows to its world, the view it offers is crystal clear."

"For young technology companies, the increased transparency signals an era of innovation. By opening the doors to previously un-tapped commercial insight, organisations have the opportunity to extract real value from this data by using it to build new products and services, and expand knowledge of their customer base," he added.

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