Physicist Brian Cox, former president of the Royal Society Lord Rees, and British science writer Ben Goldacre are among a number of high-profile figures who have backed campaign to get the £4 billion raised by the UK's 4G auction reinvested in science and technology.
The “4Growth” campaign, led by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) and Nesta, the UK's innovation foundation, sets out a number of proposals for how the money could be used to revolutionise the UK's science and innovation landscape.
- Investing £750 million over ten years in education and research that will create more scientists, engineers, researchers and designers and, in turn, generate around £90 million a year in real terms;
- Investing £1.5 billion in science and technology infrastructure through demonstrators and new research facilities;
- Setting up a £1.25 billion fund for new challenge prizes that will encourage small businesses to come up with innovative solutions for government contracts and for technological research;
- Investing £500million in innovation through the extension of Smart Awards and the backing of early-stage tech businesses through co-investment funds.
“The 4G windfall is the result of past investments in science and technology, and although there are many worthy current claims for funding, the case for reinvesting the proceeds into new technologies, science and innovation is compelling,” said Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of Nesta.
“Whenever we use a smart phone, we're standing on the shoulders of generations of innovators, from Marconi and Clerk Maxwell to Tim Berners Lee and Joe McGeehan who benefitted from funding, much of it public, that was animated by commitment to the future.
“How the 4G proceeds are used will test whether the UK's horizons have shrunk, or whether we can be as ambitious today in our commitment to the future.”
Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering added that economies like Germany and the US owe their successes to a proactive government working closely with industry.
“That's how technologies like the internet and MP3s were born. We need to emulate that approach here, and the 4G auction gives us the opportunity to do it,” he said.
The auction of spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency bands is currently scheduled for January 2013, with related 4G services expected to arrive in spring 2013.
The auction has since been repeatedly set back, as Ofcom tries to devise a strategy for distributing spectrum without giving any network operator an unfair advantage.
However, the launch of EE's 4G network today, over 1800MHz spectrum, has put a new spin on things, and rival operators Vodafone, O2 and Three are now keen to get the auction process over and done with as soon as possible, so they can begin launching their own 4G services.
At the Labour Party conference earlier this month, shadow chancellor Ed Balls suggested that funds from the sale of 4G mobile spectrum should be used to build affordable homes and provide help for first-time house buyers.