The internet has become central to everything most of us do in our everyday life. We use our computers at work (we may even take in our own devices) and then when we are home we can stream music, message on our mobile devices and watch catch up TV. And that’s all great when the internet connection is solid and the broadband signal is good, in fact we don’t even think about it, we just carry on using more and more bandwidth. It’s easy to see that just like, gas, water and electricity that broadband is now generally regarded as the fourth utility: in that it is an essential service that we need to have access to at all times.
But unlike the other older and more established utilities there is no guaranteed high speed broadband network available on a national basis, it’s much more of a postcode lottery and its worth digging in a little deeper to see what the implications of this patchy availability means to both businesses and private individuals.
Let’s start with rural areas. At the moment they seem to come way down the list of priorities from the service providers when it comes to installing high speed broadband, primarily because it is harder and more expensive and less profitable to route the fibre that is required, and as a result rural areas get pushed into the next phase and the one after and the one after and in many cases there is no definite timeline for high speed broadband to be installed. This, in effect, creates a postcode lottery with the “haves” and the “have nots” as far as high speed broadband is concerned. If you were looking to move house into a more rural area its worth checking the availability of high speed broadband, as it is certainly not guaranteed. Lots of people would quite like to live in more rural areas, but not necessarily if access to broadband was compromised. Progressing this thought a little further what does this mean for the value and attractiveness of residential properties in rural areas. If demand drops, prices could also potentially drop and all as a result of an issue that is out of the owners’ control.
The same situation applies for business operating in rural areas. The impact of low speed or patchy broadband signal shouldn’t be underestimated. I know of one cottage business owner who is finding it increasingly difficult to operate his business from his current location because basic administrative tasks are taking so long and impacting on productivity and efficiency. Yet at the same time in Cornwall, a county that most of us would consider relatively rural the “Superfast broadband” programme, which involved a £132m investment shared by an EU development grant, BT and Cornwall Council means that businesses and residents in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles are now enjoying all the benefits of high speed broadband. And the knock on benefits to the local economy will be significant as digital bandwidth can have a major impact on education and healthcare too.
The added frustration is that there is little that the digitally excluded can do other than up sticks and move to a location that already has a high speed network in place. In fact in the USA that’s exactly what one major corporation did, move from one state to another as their business relied on high speed broadband.
It is clear it’s time for a completely different approach to creating a high speed national network, other countries are way ahead of the UK on this and the UK really needs to get its act together and that means the government driving this through. The cost of not getting to grips with it in the short term shouldn’t be underestimated.
It’s also time to think outside the box and look at alternative technologies that are already available, to route the fibres to the rural areas. Let’s face it, the country is not awash with money, the Government has already invested heavily in Superfast Broadband, so there must be a better way of using the available funds. For instance, why not use existing networks such as the water pipes that are already there? Using this approach the deployment time, costs and environmental impact are vastly reduced and in principle the work could start straight way- but only if some joined up thinking is applied. The organisations responsible for connecting the nation to Superfast Broadband need to move away from the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ mind set and embrace new, innovative solutions – after all the UK has already lead the way in innovation.
Super-fast Broadband - It does not need to be a postcode lottery