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Budget pledges funds for digital cash research

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image captionUK bitcoin exchanges will soon have to abide by UK anti-money laundering regulations

UK research into digital cash could get a £10m boost from government.

The plan to funnel cash into the "opportunities and challenges" of digital currencies such as bitcoin were announced in the budget.

It was one of several technology-related policies unveiled in the Chancellor's speech.

Others include money to improve mobile networks and a pledge to bring superfast broadband to remote areas more quickly.

Ultrafast push

The funds will swell the money the government already puts into research into digital currencies, it said in a statement. It is also planning a new research initiative overseen by the UK's research councils, the Digital Catapult tech accelerator and the Turing Institute.

The Turing Institute was announced in the 2014 budget and, once up and running, will be an R&D centre specialising in ways to collect, organise and analyse large data sets.

Alongside the spending will go changes to the way digital currencies are policed in the UK. The Chancellor announced plans to apply anti-money laundering regulations to the UK markets where digital cash is traded and to look at ways to protect consumers who buy and sell them.

The £10m pledge showed the government was "serious" about digital currencies, said Garrick Hileman, an economic historian from the London School of Economics.

"The net impact of the announcements is to make the UK, and London specifically, an even more attractive destination for investment in the crypto-currency economy," he said.

The budget also contained a pledge to put about £140m in research cash towards smart cities, driverless cars and the internet of things.

Mr Osborne also announced ways to improve UK broadband speeds. The Chancellor unveiled an "ambition" to ensure that "ultrafast broadband of at least 100 megabits per second should be available to nearly all UK premises".

"It's a really good ambition for the UK," said Malcolm Corbett of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association. "We would encourage the government to ensure that they support a competitive response to this ambition."

Andrew Ferguson, co-founder of the Think Broadband news site, said the commitment to ultrafast was "exciting" but said the details needed to be fleshed out.

"The 'nearly all' line might mean 90% or it might mean 98%," he said.

In addition, the government plans to boost online speeds by changing the terms of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) that sets out the minimum telecom service every home should expect to get. The basic speed that homes should get will be raised from dial-up to 5 megabits per second, said the Chancellor.

Mr Ferguson from Think Broadband said: "The USO change is the big news for rural and could be done quickly if they want since vouchers for satellite install are easy."

The budget also promised a new £4m fund to help video games start-ups and a further £4m for a skills investment fund to boost the training available to people already working in the sector.

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