Today, the world’s largest international cable company has announced a significant vote of confidence in Britain.
The company I run, Liberty Global, the parent of Virgin Media, has announced the next phase of a programme to connect 450,000 additional London premises to the fastest widely-available broadband speeds in the UK by the end of 2018. The expansion to 450,000 properties has already begun, with Virgin Media having already covered 100,000 premises since 2014.
As the most recent part of our Project Lightning expansion, it will lift the number of London homes and businesses that we provide with ultra-fast connectivity to more than 3m. In addition, Virgin Media last week named 30 more communities voted for by local residents and businesses to benefit from ultrafast broadband and top-notch TV through the Supercharging Local Communities scheme.
These initiatives form part of the £3bn investment we announced in February last year to ensure that Britain remains the most digitally-advanced economy in Europe.
Since we first launched Project Lightning last year, more than 2,000 new jobs have been created, and we expect to add another 500 before the end of 2016. Over the course of the five-year project, we expect that some 6,000 jobs will be added at Virgin Media and its partners, including 1,000 apprenticeships.
These workers will help increase, to approximately 17m, the total number of homes and businesses in the UK that are connected to broadband speeds of at least 200Mbps.
It also demonstrates that inward investment will continue – irrespective of the political uncertainty created by Britain’s referendum vote to leave the European Union.
Our consumers want fast, reliable, high-quality telecommunications whether Britain is inside or outside the European Union. This country will not cease to embrace digital technology because of a changing relationship with Brussels, which may take years to negotiate.
We don’t expect such political uncertainty to derail our strategy. Here’s why.
Liberty Global is a UK plc that serves 26m customers in Europe across 12 countries. We operate in countries that are founder-members of the Eurozone, such as Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. We have a significant presence in Ireland and in relatively new EU-entrant countries such as Romania and Hungary. We’re a market-leader in Switzerland, which is outside the EU altogether.
Our experience of investing and operating in diverse markets, with different political rhythms and economic trends, shows us that they all share a common approach to telecommunications and content. Consumers across all of our markets increasingly demand fast, reliable and seamless connectivity that offers a wide range of high-quality content over multiple devices.
Britain is no different. It remains a stable, open and innovative society. UK consumers will still want world-class communications and content. Our investments in the UK are not limited to our fibre rich network and market-leading broadband speeds, as our ownership stakes in content providers ITV and All3Media demonstrate.
Of course, like other major inward-investors, we favour stability and regulatory certainty. But I am confident that the UK will navigate the current volatility to establish a new relationship with the EU that will be good for long-term infrastructure and content investments where Liberty Global and Virgin Media both excel.
That is why we are continuing to invest in Virgin Media’s ultra-fast broadband network and extending our connectivity across the country. This expansion will help keep the capital ahead, whether in the city centre or the suburbs.
The UK is one of the world’s most connected countries. That has not changed in the last few weeks, and our significant multi-year investment programme will help ensure that this remains the case in the future
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Mike Fries is chief executive of Liberty Global.
President and CEO