The government plans to award £10 million to companies willing to trial alternative ways of bringing superfast broadband to remote parts of Britain.
The extra funding, announced ahead of Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's Autumn Statement at the House of Commons on Thursday morning, will be used to identify wireless technologies that could extend superfast broadband to remote parts of Britain, and help the government reach its target of 98 percent coverage by 2018.
Although the funding was not mentioned in today's statement, Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, said yesterday that the trial forms part of the government’s national infrastructure plan.
“We’ll need to have the right digital networks in place to support those industries of the future,” he explains. “That’s why we’ve decided to open – as part of this update – a new £10 million competitive fund, which will market-test the kind of bold and inventive solutions that could deliver broadband to the most difficult to reach parts of the UK.
“No area – no matter how remote – should be left behind.”
It isn't clear who, exactly, will be eligible for the funding, how to obtain it, or what the criteria are beyond coming up with an "innovative" solution. However, the Treasury did say in a statement: "Options may include enhanced mobile services, new fixed technologies and alternative approaches to structuring financial support."
The government previously allocated £250 million in this year's spending review to provide superfast broadband to areas of the country that will not be covered by the existing £530 million Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, which is aiming for 90 percent coverage by 2015.
Critics have argued that BDUK is flawed in several ways, including the fact that all the money available under the initiative has been allocated to BT and that it is too bureaucratic.
Elsewhere in his budget statement, Osborne said that the Treasury would pump £270 million into Quantum Technology Centres over the next five years to fund the development of new industries in areas such as quantum computation and secure communication.
He also revealed that a fund of £80 million over the next five years would be set aside "for UK scientists and companies to build stronger links with emerging powers in developing space capabilities and technology."
The government also said that it wants to see a legislative and regulatory framework in place by the end of 2014 that allows driverless vehicles to be piloted and developed in the UK, adding that a £10 million prize fund is available for towns and cities that are interested in creating a driverless car testing site.