For months in most of the non-metropolitan areas of Britain, stories have appeared in the media reporting the slowness (but steadiness) of the progress towards faster broadband.
It’s All About Breadth
Broadband expert at uSwitch.com, Marie-Louise Abretti has warned that British netizens living in the rural areas are stuck in ‘rural ghettos’. Much of the country has shot ahead with faster speeds, rural not-spots haven’t. This has given rise to another newspeak loved phrase, ‘the level playing field’ demand.
Recipients of fast service are unaware that the same level is unavailable across the entire country. Their speeds go on improving. While that is welcome, it is because, not surprisingly, they are in very commercially viable areas.
Other commentators have lined up to sound similar warnings, including the perennial media favourite, ‘postcode lottery’. But there are businesses we need in quiet areas too, jobs and local investment depend on it just as much as inner cities do.
We’ve reported before on a scheme to transmit wireless internet services from church towers and possibly other high structures. This is Norfolk, Wispire, is continuing to grow and offer relief to more parishes, but there is a long way to go yet.
It’s All About Speed
In Suffolk, for example, Suffolk County Council has confirmed that BT engineers have begun the rollout of ‘Better Broadband’ in the more rural locations.
This is part of a £40m contract due for completion in 2015. Every property will get speeds of at least 2Mbps while 85% will get so-called superfast speeds of 24Mbps.
Speed is what businesses and residents want, wherever they are located, it seems, and politicians are responding to that demand. Heady figures suggest growth to the local economy of at least 20% and around 5000 new jobs.
Not to be outdone by their neighbours, 45,000 Norfolk businesses and homes in Norwich, Costessey and Great Yarmouth are set to benefit from BT’s national investment programme to bring super-fast broadband.
It is part of a £2.5bn national scheme, with new fibre optic cables running from exchanges to provide service to fibre-to-the-cabinet systems in streets. If the promised 80Mbps materialises, it will revolutionise both business effectiveness and home-working.
It’s All About Money
‘Super Connected Cities’ has £150 million of taxpayers’ cash earmarked for connectivity is another example of pots that are available to push digital connections. Some people, such as Neil Berkett, CEO of Virgin Media has said that the money should be spent on ‘ensuring consumers and businesses have the skills to make the most of digital, rather than looking at speeds.’
So, it’s all about skills to use it then? Well partly. But money is still a key factor. The EU has raised eyebrows at the British Government’s plans to help the market deliver ‘contiguous coverage’ across the nation.
Culture Secretary Mrs Maria Miller has determined on a mix of speed and widespread network working together to to achieve ‘complete reach and ubiquitous access to highspeed’. She calls it Britain’s unique selling point (USP). On eCommerce, we lead the world.
Others may disagree, but it’s powerful politics and economics. More jobs and competitive companies need it and need it now.
It’s All About Competition
Certainly this is the other side of the debate about speed and connectivity. Chief Executive of TalkTalk, Dido Harding, was given an entire article in the Daily Telegraph of 1st April to argue that ’to become a world leader in broadband, we must prioritise competition.’
She said that neither speed nor infrastructure together would support long-term digital development of our economy. There has to be more to win against the larger economies of the USA, India and China.
We have more Brits online than most comparable countries. Yet still 8m adults have never used the internet.
She showed how the success of the copper broadband market was due to effective regulation that balanced need for investment and ensured competition. Fierce competition, she said, has brought ‘lower prices and more innovation in products and services.’
This in turn generates take-up, skills in use, further innovation and investment and business growth which generates more jobs. And more taxes. She warns against complacency and urges the powers that be to enshrine proper competition to give choice, low prices and new markets in law.
So, that’s what it’s about. A lot of different things, every one of them probably equally important.
Image: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier