Virgin Media to invest £3bn in its fibre optic broadband network

Virgin Media has announced that it is investing £3 billion in its fibre optic broadband network across the UK, in a move that will also create thousands of jobs.

The expansion plan, known as 'Project Lightning', will extend Virgin's reach from 13 million homes and businesses today, to almost 17 million by 2020. The company currently has around five million customers, but it hopes that this figure will grow significantly over the next few years.

The £3bn investment is being made possible by Virgin Media's parent company, Liberty Global, and it claims that it will generate over £8bn for the UK economy. According to industry regulator Ofcom, the UK is the world's most internet-based major economy, and Virgin Media says that data usage on its network is growing at a rate of around 60% per year. If current trends continue, data usage on Virgin will be 10,000% higher by 2025.

ISPs like Virgin - as well as its largest rival, BT, which recently outlined its own long-term network upgrade plans - have an obvious interest in stimulating demand for digital services even further.

6,000 jobs, including 1,000 apprenticeships, will be created as part of Project Lightning, in roles ranging from sales assistants to engineers. UK Prime Minister David Cameron praised the investment for "creating more opportunities for people and businesses", and said that it would "further boost our digital economy and help secure a brighter future for Britain".

Virgin Media says that Lightning represents "the single largest investment in broadband digital infrastructure in the [UK] for more than a decade", a point that Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, also highlighted today in a tweet.

But that's a claim that has apparently surprised BT. According to the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones, BT's response was: "We're already investing more than £3bn".

Still, while the two companies squabble over who's investing more, Virgin is asking potential customers in areas currently without coverage to register their interest, in order to help it focus its network expansion plans. Under its new 'Cable My Street' initiative, the company is inviting communities to submit applications to strengthen the case for Virgin to connect them to its fibre optic network.

A similar 'Cable My Business' register is available for companies keen to get hooked up to Virgin broadband.

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