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Budget coughs up measly £50m for smaller cities' broadband

George Osbourne also promises 10 cities will share £100m to fund 80Mbps-100Mbps broadband.

It's budget day -- otherwise known as the day Chancellor George Osborne gets to look more important than the PM by (willy)waving his "little red box".

Buried in a very long budget speech, which includes the scrapping of the 50p income tax band for the super wealthy -- those lucky, lucky millionaires! -- is a little extra cash for Broadband Britain.

Specifically, £50m will be funnelled into ramping up the broadband speeds in "some" of the UK's smaller cities. The Chancellor didn't name which cities will benefit from this latest slice of broadband largess, nor how many will have to share the £50m between them, nor exactly what speeds they should expect. And nor did he say whether the government will arbitrate in the 'large town vs small city' disputes that will inevitably follow.

He did, however, name the full list of the UK's largest cities that will be sharing £100m between them to ensure availability of 80Mbps to 100Mbps broadband -- a cash injection that was announced last year. The 10 cities are: Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester and Newcastle.

"Two years ago Britain had some of the slowest broadband speeds in Europe; today our plans will deliver some of the fastest -- with 90 per cent of the population having access to superfast broadband, and improved mobile phone coverage for rural areas and along key roads across the UK," Osborne boasted.

The £100m and £50m are in addition to the £530m previously announced by the government -- culled from the BBC licence fee and earmarked to help the digital switchover, but which didn't end up getting spent -- to be divvied up among local authorities to help boost broadband speeds to at least 25Mbps in 90 per cent of the country. This cash is also being used to ensure a minimum level of 2Mbps basic broadband is available in 100 per cent of Blighty.

Osborne may be as proud as a peacock with particularly large tail feathers, but not everyone is impressed with the government's broadband policy.

"When people use 'superfast' about broadband in the UK I have to smile -- it is neither super, nor fast," Peter Cochrane, former CTO of BT and now an independent telecoms consultant, told the House of Lords Communications Committee yesterday. Cochrane had been asked to give evidence to the committee's enquiry into the government broadband policy.

In Cochrane's view the UK is lagging far behind many key economies on broadband -- and he reckons 100Mbps should be our basic floor, not the ceiling of Osborne's ambitions.

"What concerns me most is that even our aspirations are low: 20Mbps isn't superfast. It's super slow. It's a candle, while the rest of the world is using the light bulb," Cochrane told the Committee. "The UK will be frozen out of the next industrial revolution unless it is cloud-ready, and quickly," he added.

Are you happy with UK broadband speeds or do you think the government should be funding truly super speedy broadband -- the likes of which can already be found in Asia and elsewhere? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or over on our Facebook page.