UK to put up £1BN for full fiber broadband and 5G, £400M extra for VC

The UK government has confirmed it will be borrowing to try to encourage investment in high speed fiber broadband networks and 5G technology — with a plan to spend over £1BN by 2020-2021 to bolster the country’s digital infrastructure.

Giving his Autumn Statement today, Chancellor Philip Hammond said: “Our future transport, business and lifestyle needs will require world class digital infrastructure to underpin them. My ambition is for the UK to be a world leader in 5G — that means a full fiber network, a step change in speed, security and reliability. So we will invest over £1BN in our digital infrastructure to catalyze private investment in fiber networks and to support 5G trials.”

The UK continues to rank well outside the top 10 countries for average broadband speeds, according to Akamai’s 2016 report. While the gap between urban and rural broadband speeds remains problematic.

Incumbent telco BT, whose Openreach subsidiary owns and manages access to the UK’s primary broadband infrastructure, has focused its efforts on squeezing higher speeds out of existing copper based infrastructure — with only very limited full fiber to the home rollouts. While rival broadband network providers, such as Virgin Media, typically focus on urban areas where the volume of paying customers makes the infrastructure expenditure worth their while. The result: Just two per cent of UK premises have access to full-fibre connections.

The government’s plan to improve that figure is to encourage smaller, alternative players to push in with full fiber offerings. There will be £400M for what it dubs “gold standard” fiber broadband, with funds needing to be matched by broadband providers — so a potential £800M to fund rollouts.

Today Hammond also said that from next April there will be 100 per cent business rates relief for a five year period on new fiber infrastructure — “supporting further rollout of fiber to homes and businesses”.

A further £750M will be made available to fund 5G trials.

The chancellor added that the government will be asking the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) for recommendations on the UK’s future economic infrastructure needs — and signaled an intention to increase the proportion of GDP spent here, to between 1% and 1.2% of GDP every year from 2020, up from around 0.8% this year.

£400M to try to help UK startups scale before being bought out

The Autumn Statement also contained a measure specifically aimed at supporting UK startups to scale up, with the Chancellor announcing plans to put £400M into venture capital firms via the British Business Bank — “unlocking £1BN of new finance for growing firms” as, in his words, “a first step to tackle the long-standing problem of our fastest growing startup tech firms being snapped up by bigger companies, rather than growing to scale”.

Eileen Burbidge a parter at VC firm Passion Capital, which has received investment money via the British Business Bank, welcomed the move.

“I think it’s an excellent decision,” she told TechCrunch. “Passion isn’t more likely to be a future beneficiary than anyone else (our existing/prior BBB commitments have been done/in the past, 2011 and 2015) but as a previous beneficiary we can attest to how valuable the BBB support was to attracting other investors in support of our fund and activities.

“The BBB was absolutely crucial for us in launching our first fund since we were first time fund managers. Their commitment helped to secure funding from across European and South East Asian family offices and high net worths. So I think it’s brilliant the BBB will be given more funding to support even more fund managers or to greater degrees.”

Asked about the government’s overarching aim of prevent promising homegrown startups from being bought by overseas acquirers before they have a chance to get really big she described it as a “noble aim”, but added: “I see it all as good activity (acquisitions, mergers) and that it’s a good thing the world recognises Britain as a place to scout for great talent, innovation and technology.

“I’ve no doubt as our digital/tech ecosystem continues to mature that we’ll have more and more British ‘tech giants’ as well.”

Also announced: £500,000 per year for fintech startups, coming from the Department of International Trade — although the specter of what Brexit will mean for UK financial services firms looms rather larger. An annual ‘State of UK fintech’ report is also planned, along with a network of regional fintech envoys. Government will also modernise its guidance on electronic ID verification with the aim of supporting tech for accessing financial services.

Another measure mentioned in the Statement is a commitment to spent £390M to build on what Hammond dubbed the UK’s “competitive advantage in low emission vehicles and the development of connected autonomous vehicles”. He also said there will be 100% first year capital allowance for the installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Also mentioned: support for plans to boost transport links between Oxford and Cambridge, with a view to capitalizing on knowledge sharing between the two universities.

“This project can be more than just a transport link — it can become a transformational tech corridor drawing on the world class research strengths of our two best known universities,” he said, backing the NIC’s interim recommendations on creating an Oxford, Cambridge “growth corridor” — including £110M in funding for East-West rail, and a commitment to deliver an Oxford to Cambridge.

In the speech the chancellor also reiterated the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier this week of a £2BN per year funding boost for R&D by 2020. And confirmed the corporate tax rate will drop to 17 per cent next April — although Theresa May has also said the government will be reviewing the rate to see if a further cut is possible.

He flagged up, in passing, what he described as “the raft of investments in the UK” since the Brexit referendum — name-checking Softbank, Nissan, Google and Apple, “among others”.

Featured Image: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Most students can’t tell fake news from real news, study shows

If you thought you heard the last on fake news, you were sadly mistaken.

A Stanford study found that the majority of middle school students can’t tell the difference between real news and fake news. In fact, 82 percent couldn’t distinguish between a real news story on a website and a “sponsored content” post.

Of the 8,704 students studied (ranging in age from middle school to college level), four in ten high-school students believed that the region near Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant was toxic after seeing an unsourced photo of deformed daisies coupled with a headline about the Japanese area. The photo, keep in mind, had no source or location attribution. Meanwhile, two out of every three middle-schoolers were fooled by an article on financial preparedness penned by a bank executive.

It seems that those surveyed in the study were judging validity of news on Twitter based on the amount of detail in the tweet and whether or not a large photo was attached, rather than focusing on the source of the tweet.

The WSJ, which first reported on the study, says that a big part of solving this problem among young people comes down to education, both at school and at home.

But with 62 percent of U.S. adults getting the majority of their news from social media, the responsibility for this issue also lies with the social media organizations themselves, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Both Google and Facebook have made steps toward thwarting the fake news onslaught, including banning fake news organizations from their ad network. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg also posted a number of responses to the issue on Facebook, and gave actual steps toward stopping the spread of fake news on the platform.

That said, the fallout from fake news is not as minor as Zuck originally stated in his first response on Facebook, where he mentioned that less than 1 percent of news on Facebook is fake.

Even in minuscule amounts, fake news has a much greater ability to spread quickly and be consumed by many given the nature of the salacious headlines themselves. Paired with the fact that most adults get their news from social media, and most young people can’t tell the difference, you can see just how problematic this issue is.

Hopefully, steps toward stopping fake news come swiftly and effectively. But until then, it’s important for parents to be diligent in teaching their kids how to determine the difference between a sourced news report and a salacious headline with no evidence behind it.

Featured Image: Nationaal Archief/J.D. Noske/Flickr