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Government Names Ultrafast Broadband Cities But Will Keep 4G Auction Funds

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Osborne announces 12 ultrafast cities but is accused of using future 4G funds to fudge his figures

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed a list of 12 more cities that will get ultrafast broadband, in his Autumn Statement. But he resisted calls to re-invest the $3.5 billion expected from the forthcoming 4G auction, and will instead use the money to reduce the UK’s deficit.

Building on an announcement from March that £50 million would go on the expansion of Britain’s ultrafast broadband project, Osborne confirmed the following will soon benefit from speeds of at least 80Mbps: Brighton and Hove, Cambridge, Coventry, Derby, Oxford, Portsmouth, Salford, York, Aberdeen, Perth, Newport and Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland.

Ultrafast broadband expands

These twelve cities are added to a list of 10 cities, including London, Birmingham and Manchester, which were given the chance to share a £100 million pot to get similar speeds, back in the March Budget,

“The twelve cities have produced ambitious and comprehensive plans, which will turn them into digital leaders and give local economies a real boost,” said culture secretary Maria Miller. “The new investment will help put these cities at the centre of the digital stage, competing for jobs and investment and supporting Britain in the global race.”

The government is investing £680m over the lifetime of this Parliament to “deliver the best broadband in Europe”. A whopping £530 million of that is going on the more intractable problem of getting fibre into rural areas, through the  Broadband Development UK (BDUK) initiative, meaning the government has now used up that total fund.

4G calls ignored

Meanwhile, the government has ignored calls for it to reinvest funds from the Ofcom-run 4G auction, which will sell off portions of spectrum at the start of next year. One campaign group, It’s4Growth, backed by big names like celebrity physicist Brian Cox, wanted the proceeds to be invested in science and technology. The Labour party wanted the funds to go into affordable housing.

But according to reports, neither are in the Coalition’s plans. The 2012-13 deficit figure fell unexpectedly because Osborne included the receipts from the sale, which it estimated at £3.5 billion, to reduce this year’s borrowing.

Some have claimed Osborne is using a clever accounting trick given the auction is yet to take place and he has no precise data on how much the likes of Vodafone and O2 will pay for spectrum. Regardless, the fact that Osborne is using the receipts indicates he won’t be using any of the funds for anything other than deficit reduction.

But lobbying will continue from interested parties. “Our campaign to get 4G proceeds invested into sci-tech will continue – final receipts aren’t known yet,”  It’s4Growth tweeted.

The government also confirmed it would be spending £6 million on entry-level and professional-level training for up to 3,300 people in film, television, animation and video games.

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