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Michael Gove MP Claims Brexit to Deliver More Cash for Broadband

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018 (10:43 am) - Score 1,064
farming uk rural areas

The Government’s Environment Secretary, Michael Gove MP, has told a meeting of UK farmers that fast broadband and 4G mobile coverage remains “patchy and poor in many areas” and that true universal coverage could be “paid for by the money we no longer have to give to the EU.”

At this point we have to take a step back because any discussion of Brexit and future funding invariably results in an ugly mess of questionable claims and counter-claims from all sides (e.g. £350m per week extra for the NHS). Suffice to say that anything stated by any politician along these lines has to be taken with a significant pinch of salt, at least until we know what the final Brexit and trade settlement will actually deliver.

On this point it’s well known that Michael Gove is very pro-Brexit and so his speech to the NFU Farming Conference 2018, which took place yesterday, should be taken in that context. We’ve pasted the relevant paragraphs below and will then examine a few of the remarks.

Michael Gove MP said:

It is unjustifiable that in the country that first guaranteed universal mail provision, invented the telephone and television and pioneered the World Wide Web that broadband provision is so patchy and poor in so many areas.

Farming cannot become as productive as it should be, rural economies cannot grow as they should, and new housing cannot be provided in rural areas as so many hope to see and we cannot have an economy that works for everyone unless everyone has access to decent broadband and mobile coverage.

Daily life, especially active economic life, is becoming increasingly difficult for those without access to fast, reliable and affordable broadband. It is the necessary infrastructure of all our lives in these times, as essential as mains electricity or clean drinking water.

And yet rural communities in Britain are denied good access to this contemporary utility today just as the farmers of the Hill Country in Texas were denied electricity in Congressman Lyndon Johnson’s day – until the New Deal transferred power to the people.

If we could provide a universal service obligation for mail in the past – so that everyone in the country knew their post would be collected and delivered on the same basis as every other citizen – and if we can provide a universal guarantee now that every citizen will be given the same access to the healthcare they need when they need it, then why should we persist in discriminating over access to the essential service that is decent broadband?

Progress has been made, we have already raised the availability of super-fast broadband from 65% of premises in 2010 to 95% by the end of 2017, but more needs to be done. We have committed to making high speed broadband available to all by 2020 and mobile coverage to 95% of the UK by 2022. And as you will have seen, this weekend we announced a new initiative to use church spires to boost broadband and mobile connectivity in rural areas. This kind of creative thinking shows how our nation’s beautiful heritage can work hand in hand with twenty-first century innovation. But we still need to go further.

And in indeed face down some of the vested interests. Some say that if individuals choose to live in rural areas, where broadband provision and mobile phone coverage may cost more, that choice should not be “subsidised” by others in urban areas. To which I say, but where do the urban dwellers get their food from, who keeps the countryside beautiful for them, who protects the landscape, keeps our nation’s green lungs breathing, who maintains the health, beauty and balance of nature for future generations? The people in rural areas who are currently being deprived an important service so many take for granted and need it now.

We’re planning to spend north of £60 billion on HS2, 30 times as much as it would cost to provide universal superfast broadband for everyone in the country. Surely investment in broadband is just as vital, and an urgent part of improving our critical national infrastructure.

Of course inside the EU, rules on state aid have prevented us from investing in broadband in a way that is best for the UK. Outside the EU, just one fifth of our annual net contribution to the EU could transform our national infrastructure.

The Prime Minister has made clear that the days of the UK making vast annual contributions to the EU will be over. And when we leave the EU we can put that money towards domestic priorities, like making our digital infrastructure work by improving rural broadband and connectivity overall. I will be working closely with my fantastic colleague, Matt Hancock, the new DCMS Secretary of State and I know as a rural MP he shares my passion for sorting this out.

Universal broadband and 4G coverage for all – paid for by the money we no longer have to give to the EU – that is what we mean by taking back control.

The speech is at times a little convoluted, not least in the way that it seems to dart at one point between calling for “universal superfast broadband for everyone in the country” and the next it supports the Government’s commitment to “making high speed broadband available to all by 2020 and mobile coverage to 95% of the UK by 2022.”

On the above point the eagle eyed will note that Gove’s “high speed broadband available to all by 2020” remark is actually a veiled reference to the 10Mbps+ Universal Service Obligation (USO), which is crucially NOT the same as calling for universal coverage of “superfast broadband” (defined as 24Mbps+ or 30Mbps+).

Then we have the open question of how much money, if any at all, would the government actually be willing to commit toward broadband (i.e. when supposedly extracted from existing contributions to the EU). This seems to overlook certain balancing issues with the current Brexit bill, as well as the potential impact upon GDP growth and the fact that other politicians seem to be promising the same money for almost everything under the sun. As a side note the EU has also contributed money to various UK broadband projects, such as in Cornwall.

Likewise there’s the point about State Aid rules, which again could still be impacted by the final Brexit agreement. In theory if the UK does completely extricate itself from EU state aid rules then that might allow greater flexibility, such as by making it easier to put public funding toward the deployment of closed broadband networks in rural areas rather than open access ones (wholesale). The economic model for a closed network is easier for ISPs to make but that could also reduce consumer choice.

Overall the speech calls for change, while at the same time struggling to clarify precisely what such change would actually deliver versus the existing strategy. Meanwhile the shadow being cast by Brexit continues to create more questions than answers.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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36 Responses
  1. CarlT

    I guess he missed his own government’s economic forecasts indicating there would be less money to spend on such things under almost every scenario, not more.

    As far as keeping our countryside beautiful goes I must’ve missed the part where my city flooded due in part to destruction of natural flood plains for grouse hunting in North Yorkshire, or the gorgeous site of farmer’s fields.

    As far as where the food comes from half of it is imported and it’s not like it’s provided for free.

    This Brexit delusion is getting really tiresome. A plan to progress every aspect on the country grounded in reality rather than virtually blind optimism would be good. These frankly rather desperate speeches from politicians trying to sell us on something that, by almost every indicator, will be economically harmful is dull.

    There is a really, really good reason the economy played such a small part of the leave campaigns.

    Gove is a moron.

    • CarlT

      I should clarify: I am aware that food prices may well be held artificially low by supermarkets and farmers certainly get a raw deal on many levels, however they aren’t doing what they do for their health or generosity.

      Gove banging on about farming is hilarious. If the people he hangs with get the exit from the EU they want British farming, alongside manufacturing, will pretty much be wiped out by cheaper imports. The EU’s food policies try and ensure stable food supply, not cheap food supply, and incentivise EU producers, including the UK’s accordingly.

      Custodians of the land are compensated already by the CAP. It’s a bad system and needs reforming, though I’m yet to see coherent plans for a long-term replacement for it from Mr Gove.

      Tiresome propaganda when it’s beyond time to get serious and lay out both to farmers and the rest of the country as a whole what exactly the plans are.

    • JamesMJohnson

      I think you miss the point.
      If the money isn’t invested to improve connectivity we’ll fall even further behind.
      The Government are realising that digital services are one of the fastest growing contributors to GDP…
      Without that investment there won’t be much to offset the impacts of customs, boarder checks etc.
      Also please don’t use ISPReview as your political platform.
      Stick to the topic at hand.

    • JustAnotherFileServer

      It would help if farmers went back to farming in this country. All the farms around where I live either just grow Rapeseed during the summer or have large windmills in the fields without growing crops.

      When I’ve talked to the local farmers, they all say that they have to diversify these days as they don’t get enough money for their produce.

    • JustAnotherFileServer

      @JamesMJohnson I guess if a topic is from an MP then it’s bound to attract political comments?

    • AndyC

      looking the the internal EU report from the national farmers union (NFU) it seems to hint there is much better things to spend the money on… being able to stream telletubbys in 4k wont help if you can’t feed your kid.

      I agree universal superfast coverage is a necessary goal (even tho most of the rural people on here want ultrafast/hyperfast) but im not convinced that using the now old “when we leave we can spend the money on this” argument is justified and whats with the 4G thing since the mobile providers are gearing up for 5G wouldn’t it be better to lay down the law now and say that 5G must have 100% coverage by a certain point and if it doesn’t fine the 5G providers and use that money to complete the rollout?

    • Joe

      @JustAnotherFileServer

      There is a difference between a general political point (must as i’d prefer to use those sparingly) and abuse.

      @Mark Jackson: If the site policy doesn’t prohibit calling people morons it should.

    • Webbs

      @JustAnotherFileServer

      Re “It would help if farmers went back to farming in this country. All the farms around where I live either just grow Rapeseed during the summer or have large windmills in the fields without growing crops. When I’ve talked to the local farmers, they all say that they have to diversify these days as they don’t get enough money for their produce.”

      Growing rapeseed traditionally earns the higher subsidies, being certified Organic was a similar earner for a while until the bubble burst somewhat on that trend. Nowadays one can even earn extra sums by preserving natural woodland on farms that host certain species of native birds or insects etc instead of allowing farm stock to use it.

      At the end of the day, one grows what it pays to do so.

    • Gadget

      @Webbs – so I assume you’d also support the position that commercial infrastructure also providers also only deploy “where it pays to go”?

    • CarlT

      A politician makes political statements I am, of course, going to respond in a political manner.

      I am married to a teacher who, despite being genuinely excellent at her job, that’s official both from peer and student reviews and Ofsted, no longer teaches full time in no small part because of Gove’s reforms.

      I have a daughter going through the education system Gove did his utmost to wring any creativity and free thought from. I apologise for calling the man a moron though. I meant lying, deceitful, cynical, opportunistic, regressive, reactionary moron I wouldn’t trust to run a toilet in a nightclub, let alone a major office of state.

      Hope that helps.

    • Webbs

      @Gadget – I understand the reasons for the position commercial providers might take, but I don’t support it necessarily, no.

      I spent my first 22 years living on a rural farm and, lovely as it was, the needs of my career path meant a move was necessary. I bought a new-build home 25 miles up the road two years ago and No.2 on the priorities (behind school catchment area) was having decent broadband speeds, which is circa 60mbps FTTC presently here. Pretty happy 🙂

    • Mike Hunt

      With a government headed by mostly 5th columnists (Remoaners) one cannot be surprised if Brexit turns out to be a disaster.

  2. Optimist

    The Treasury’s economic forecasts have proved to be inaccurate – the huge recession in the wake of a vote to leave the EU did not happen. There is another report just out crtiquing the Treasury’s methods and forecasting that we will be a lot better off outside the EU.

    Regardless of forecasts, however, it is unarguable that our contributions to the EU exceed all the money we get back in the form of the rebate and grants by something like £9billion a year. When we leave, we can use that money as we think fit.

    • AndyH

      And what is the value of our free trade with the EU (and countries that have trade agreements with the EU), especially for our service sector?

    • Optimist

      AndyH – other EU countries sell far more to the UK than we do to them, so there will want to see a deal to avoid disrupting their exports to us.

    • AndyH

      @ Optimist – The main reason the UK runs a trade deficit with the EU is because of the decline of the UK manufacturing industry. Goods are ultimately imported from the EU because the UK companies cannot supply them or they are cheaper from abroad.

      Now Brexit will not change our trade deficit because UK companies are reliant on importing a whole range of goods from the EU. What will change is that France and Germany will take the initiative to try to gain control of the UK service industry, something which they have wanted to do for some time. The economic impact of this will be far greater than any net contribution we make to the EU.

      As for the Brexit politicians and their ‘cash claims’ post-Brexit, why are these not official government policies? If we have all this money to spend all of a sudden, why is the government refusing to make any commitments? The political opportunism of certain individuals within the Tory party will eventually lead to their demise.

    • CarlT

      I prefer reports that don’t try and fit the facts to the outcome they want to be honest. If I wanted to enjoy that kind of science I would read Answers in Genesis. The report you mention is based on the EU giving the UK a trade outcome that has already been explicitly excluded – the ‘have cake and eat it’ deal. TL;DR it is worthless propaganda.

      Not only is this excluded by EUCo guidelines, as things stand it would be illegal both under EU law and under the WTO regulations. It’s not happening. The overwhelming weight of evidence both forecasts and the UK economy since June 2016 indicates loss of tax take will outweigh savings on EU net contributions. The OBR hasn’t modified growth forecasts and in turn deficit forecasts for fun though I believe they are also under attack for being ‘off message’.

      I’m guessing you aren’t big on climate change science either given you can find perhaps 2 or 3 papers in each hundred that disagree.

    • Chris P

      is that the OBR that along with the treasury and bank of England predicted imminent doom and gloom if we voted out?

      The votes happened now just get on with it!!!

      Its annoying how the “momentum” mob jump on forums and look to take over any debate ignoring any data that points the other way of their views.

    • CarlT

      The FT kindly pointed out why the paper you reference is nonsense. https://www.ft.com/content/9bddba54-16ea-11e8-9e9c-25c814761640

      Chris P – I ignore data when it’s nonsensical, per above, and am most definitely not related to Momentum in any way, shape or form.

      Perhaps when trying to take the high ground as far as the background of such discussions go it’s best not to make wild assumptions.

      Regarding the OBR and Brexit forecasts I’d recommend looking at them rather than taking talking points from leave campaigners, then framing them in the context of what actually happened.

      ‘The votes happened now just get on with it!!!’ just indicates you’ve no idea what you’re talking about. Ignoring the abysmal spelling and grammar in that and the rest of the post. Were the UK to do that, no transition, no deal, I’m sure you’ve a solution for the over 700 agreements we’d have to renegotiate, immediately, or the minor issue that we simply couldn’t trade internationally as we simply don’t exist right now as an entity for customs purposes in the WTO. Any solution for the Irish border? Financial services operations? No? Then perhaps some more reading is required before either judging other people or demanding that the UK ‘just get on with it’.

      We do indeed need to get on with it. In a sane, sensible and pragmatic way rather than blowing red, white and blue sunshine up our hindmost and singing Rule Britannia. It’s 2018, the world is intimately interconnected, and it’s far, far, far more complicated than the rest of the world dropping at our feet and 350 million quid a week for the NHS.

      Article 50 shouldn’t have been served for years. It would have taken that long to do this properly.

    • Chris P

      & there we go CarlT in the mould we have come to expect from those who are intolerant of the views and opinions of others.

      in case you missed it, the UK public voted and collectively chose one way over another. I guess you also missed the EU wanting Britain to trigger article 50 asap.
      https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/25/article-50-brexit-debate-britain-eu?

      i’m not trying to take any ground on this, decisions been made & not by me, time to get a move on and stop complaining about it.

      regarding my spelling and grammar, looks like you have your own issues you need to be looking at.

  3. Salek

    I wonder how the politicians decide where the spending priorities in the countries infrastructure:

    “We’re planning to spend north of £60 billion on HS2, 30 times as much as it would cost to provide universal superfast broadband for everyone in the country. Surely investment in broadband is just as vital, and an urgent part of improving our critical national infrastructure”

    Surly divert some of this money to Fibre rollout

    • Fastman

      hhhnn so that means he thinks its 2bn to cover the last 5% and every one at 10meg (I assume that what he means by universal superfast (except 10 isn’t so who knows what that 2bn will get you

    • MikeP

      Except, if you don’t build HS2, you have to provide the necessary (and it is necessary) capacity improvement on the routes to the North by upgrading the current infrastructure.

      Which would cost even more. And have cost overruns even grater than HS2 🙂

  4. dragoneast

    “Wave a magic wand and we can have whatever we want” has always been the level of debate in this country.

  5. Joe

    “The speech is at times a little convoluted, not least in the way that it seems to dart at one point between calling for “universal superfast broadband for everyone in the country” and the next it supports the Government’s commitment to “making high speed broadband available to all by 2020 and mobile coverage to 95% of the UK by 2022.””

    Not I think a fair comment. Whatever post-Brexit spending policy is it will not come into effect until after 2022. So you can reasonably have one policy aim to ’22 and a different one after if you then have more flexibility.

    • I’m not sure if you’ve overlooked the point I was making about the way that politicians almost habitually mix up their broadband definitions (“high speed” vs “superfast” etc.), which makes everything very confusing for the rest of us. Is he saying that he’s happy with the 10Mbps USO or wants a 24 or 30Mbps USO etc.? Impossible to tell from the mixed language.

    • Joe

      I completely agree with your point about broadband definitions. Perhaps I misunderstood your point but it seemed unfair to suggest that you could not have and express pre/post ’22 plans that were substantively different

    • Salek

      Exactly the point – if someone was a newbie, which is faster, ultrafast, superfast or hyperfast

  6. Frank Butcher

    “Of course inside the EU, rules on state aid have prevented us from investing in broadband in a way that is best for the UK.”

    Presumably he has heard of BDUK, and that the projected was provided with funds from the EU?

    “Outside the EU, just one fifth of our annual net contribution to the EU could transform our national infrastructure.”

    How many times are they going to spend the so-called Brexit dividend? Wasn’t double the net contributions going to the NHS?

    What a sad individual Mr Gove really is.

    • Joe

      ““Of course inside the EU, rules on state aid have prevented us from investing in broadband in a way that is best for the UK.”

      Presumably he has heard of BDUK, and that the projected was provided with funds from the EU?””

      That’s just a non sequitur and/or a straw man. BDUK used some EU funds but was mostly UK funds. Not that that is relevent to the quote above as its aboutthe mechanism by which you runt he scheme. The BDUK process was hugely bureaucratic and slow in large measure because of the compliance issues around state aid rules both domestically (to comply with EU law) and at the EU level getting permission to run schemes.

    • CarlT

      Superfast Cornwall. Zero UK central government funding, all ERDF, BT and Cornwall Council. Delivered 90k FTTP lines alongside a bunch of FTTC.

    • Insider

      ERDF funding came with a caveat and meant that we had to pass specific type of business premises at certain volume in order to draw down the funding.

      This was in many cases greatly at odds with the BDUK funding to such an extent the roll outs in some areas were separated between ERDF and BDUK.

      Absolutely being in the EU drove a certain product and deployment mentality that put us on the road to where we are now.

  7. Sean D

    Optimist – You make the incorrect assumption that the EU will act in an economically rational way, when it’s clear they are acting in a politically rational way. The EU will make at difficult as possible for the UK as the EU Project is what they are seeking to protect not their back pockets. For the record Gove is a twit of galactic proportions . Don’t forget he told us, “Britain has had enough of experts”, i.e. let the clueless know best.

    • Mike Hunt

      For reference look at how USSR treated Lithuania when they wanted to leave, very similar to what the EUSSR is doing and will ultimately fail in the end.

    • Optimist

      Sean D may well be right, in which case the UK leaves without a deal and doesn’t pay a penny piece of this “divorce bill” leaving a great big hole in the EU’s budget. Already the Netherlands has said it will not pay more to cover it. EU will go the same way as earlier multi-national empires.

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