Digital technology underpins our ambition to level-up the country. Investments in digital infrastructure, skills and business growth ensure Britain's economy and society are fit for the future. My department has recently undertaken work to deliver on this key priority across our digital policy agenda.
BDUK has increased superfast coverage to 96% of UK premises. The Government announced in-principle support in October 2019 for the Mobile Network Operators’ Shared Rural Network proposal. The Prime Minister has made improvements to rural mobile coverage part of his first 100 days pledge. I will continue to work with the sector to make that happen, and I am keeping all options on the table, including rural roaming.
In order to boost regional digital skills, the Government launched a competition for new degree conversion courses in data science and AI in October 2019. The competitive process for bidders from English Universities is specifically seeking a good regional spread and includes £10m for up to 1,000 scholarships to open up opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds.
The government responded to the Cairncross Review into the sustainability of high-quality journalism on 27 January, outlining the steps the government will take to support regional and local newspapers as they transition online. We have already started to take forward some of the interventions proposed in the Review. We have worked with Nesta to develop a £2million pilot innovation fund, which launched in October 2019, and seeks to invest in new technological prototypes, start-ups and innovative business models to explore new ways of sustaining the industry in this changing landscape.
There is much more to do - though delivering with ministerial colleagues, local partners and the private sector, we can build on recent success. The latest figures show that the digital sector contributed £149 billion to the economy in 2018, meaning it accounts for 7.7% of the UK economy, and is growing nearly six times the rate of the UK as a whole.
This Government will deliver on its promise to commit £5bn to make sure the hardest to reach areas aren’t left behind. With this funding, we can deliver world-class broadband connectivity and ensure that a connected, 21st century Britain is a reality for all regions in the UK.