UK Gov releases another £95 million for local full-fibre diets

Over the last year, the UK Government has been proudly preaching of massive investments into digital infrastructure. It’s questionable how much has made its way into reality, but an additional £95 million has been released today.

The Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Challenge Fund has announced £95 million has been made available to aid the roll-out of full fibre networks. Local authorities and public sector bodies around the UK can apply to the Local Full Fibre Networks Investment Panel to access the investment, which has been earmarked for rural areas, regions which have higher than average hurdles to 5G, the public sector and the development of local technology hubs. A plan to spend the money by March 2021 would have to be tabled to be applicable, with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport believing £95 million should be enough to fund roughly 20 projects.

“We recently set out our ambition for a nationwide full-fibre broadband network by 2033, and initiatives like this will be instrumental in achieving that,” said Minister for Digital, Margot James. “We want to hear from any local authority interested in taking part, so we can work closely with them on their plans to help them secure funding.”

The first two rounds of grant funding released £105 million into the economy, while this £95 million will deplete the funds bank account. The cash itself is part of the government’s expanded £31 billion National Productivity Investment Fund, £740 million has been reserved for digital infrastructure. How many cheques have been signed so far is unknown, though questions still remain whether £740 million is a big enough commitment considering the lost ground on global leaders.

As it should be, emphasis will be placed on the proposals which plug the gaps from private sector investment. Rural regions are of course an area of interest here, as are regional technology hubs, potentially decreasing the reliance of the UK economy on London. The Midlands is an excellent example of this initiative, with the region targeting the development of electric cars and the components in creating its own hub of technical excellence.

For those interested in wrestling investment away from the fund, an email expressing interest would have to be sent by September 30 2018.

New York revokes approval for Charter’s Time Warner acquisition, two years on

The New York State Public Service Commission decided to revoke its approval for Charter Communications’ $55 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable in 2016, claiming the former’s failure to live up to its promises.

When it came in to snatch Time Warner Cable from Comcast’s failed acquisition bid, Charter Communications was creating the country’s second largest ISP. Although for deals like this, there are always strings attached. In Charter’s case, it won the approval from FCC stakeholders after promising, among other things, to extend high-speed broadband connections to the hitherto under-served areas in the states the new company would operate in.

In its announcement on July 27, the Commission claimed Charter has failed to add an additional 145,000 households and businesses in New York State’s rural areas to the internet network. Specifically, the Commission listed five areas where Charter has not fulfilled its promises:

  • The company’s repeated failures to meet deadlines;
  • Charter’s attempts to skirt obligations to serve rural communities;
  • Unsafe practices in the field;
  • Its failure to fully commit to its obligations under the 2016 merger agreement; and
  • The company’s purposeful obfuscation of its performance and compliance obligations to the Commission and its customers

As a result, the Commission is asking Charter to sell its Time Warner Cable assets, and to find a successor to carry out its obligations within 60 days. Charter said it would appeal.

If merging two businesses is complex and expensive, it is no less so to break a combined business that has been in operation for two years. The “Time Warner” brand is currently also involved in another, more expensive merger case with AT&T, which is also facing the danger of being forced to de-merge.

UK Gov turns to God to solve the rural connectivity problem

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced a new initiative which will see churches and other buildings used to improve broadband, mobile and WiFi connectivity for rural communities.

In fairness to Minister for Fun Matt Hancock and his DCMS cronies, this isn’t a bad idea. 65% of Anglican churches and 66% of parishes in England are in rural areas, and in most cases these buildings are located centrally in the community meaning they could be ideally located to address connectivity and coverage problems. The buildings could be used to host digital infrastructure to aid the government in meeting its commitment to deliver good quality mobile connectivity to everyone in the country irrelevant as to where they live, work and travel.

“Churches are central features and valued assets for local communities up and down the country,” said Hancock. “This agreement with the Church of England will mean that even a 15th century building can help make Britain fit for the future improving people’s lives by boosting connectivity in some of our hardest-to-reach areas.”

While it is not necessarily a new idea, rolling it out nationwide could have a very positive impact. Currently there are 120 examples of broadband and mobile services being delivered from parish churches across the country, from wireless transmitters in church spires and church towers, to aerials, satellite dishes, and more traditional fibre cables. But this is nothing more than a drop in the ocean compared to what could be achieved through the initiative. The Church of England has just over 16,000 church buildings in 12,500 parishes.

“I welcome this agreement,” said Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich. “It builds on what we have been seeking to do in the Diocese of Norwich since 2011 with the creation of WiSpire, a company seeking to use church towers and spires to enable Wifi connectivity in communities, especially in rural locations. Our parish churches are a truly national network, and to use them creatively to create new forms of connectivity enhances their value for the communities they serve.”

The only thing which is more surprising than creative thinking from the government is the welcoming arms of the church in this example. There are some very unholy things on the internet and the church is now helping farmers access them.