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CBI Report Tells UK to Fix Rural and Urban Broadband Divide Before 2015

Wednesday, Jul 10th, 2013 (1:33 am) - Score 347

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which lobbies on behalf of some 240,000 businesses (around a third of the private sector workforce), has published a new Let’s Get Digital! report that calls on the government to stop “short-term thinking” and adopt a cross-party approach to solve the national roll-out of superfast broadband before 2015.

At the end of June 2013 is was revealed that the government would not achieve its £530m state-aid supported target for 90% UK superfast broadband (25Mbps+) coverage by the end of 2015 (it’s instead expected to be 88%), although they did confirm £250m from the BBC TV Licence to help extend the target to reach 95% by 2017 (here).

However the CBI argues that it would be a mistake to “hold back the investment until after the next election” and suggests that it would be “more cost-effective” to target the cash at existing local schemes and a wider range of ISPs, which it claims would drive-up connectivity now instead of having to “start again in 2015” (this is a reference to a potential change of government and thus policy in 2015).

Katja Hall, CBI Chief Policy Director, said:

Broader, faster digital networks are revolutionising how society and business operate, just as the Victorian rail and electrification systems transformed the world in the 1800s. The UK has a positive story to tell on digital but we cannot be complacent if we want to stay ahead. Politicians of all parties must set aside the carping and map out digital plans together for the next decade and beyond. Too often difficult decisions are kicked into the long grass.

We must close the rural/urban internet divide. It’s a huge concern that many areas still lack the high-speed connectivity that the rest of the country takes for granted. We cannot wait another two years for this investment to start flowing and we need clarity on the further £50m originally set aside, which still remains uncommitted. It will be far quicker to invest in existing innovative, on-going local and industry schemes now to unlock economic and social benefits.

Industry has taken the lead on expanding broadband connectivity across the country. Government now has to do its bit on the hardest areas to reach – particularly when 4G is becoming standard and 5G is on the horizon.”

The CBI’s Other Key Recommendations Include:

* Set-up a major cross-industry-Whitehall review and strategy for digital infrastructure to meet the UK’s needs over the next decade;

* Revise future versions of the National Infrastructure Plan to get the right digital networks in place so contractors deliver major construction projects on-time and on-budget;

* Boost smaller firms’ take-up of e-commerce and digital business-models, through a major skills and awareness campaign. Research shows more SMEs marketing and doing business online could generate £18.8 billion a year;

* Expand online public services to drive demand for broadband infrastructure – including speeding up government’s ‘digital by default’ strategy;

* Create robust industry and business digital partnerships, like in the music industry, to maximise the potential of new technology.

The old phrase “easier said than done” comes to mind a lot while reading the CBI’s report, which isn’t to say that they’re wrong but that turning such ideas into reality has often proven to be rather more difficult.

It’s also difficult to envisage how a cross-party approach would be any better, especially this close to the usual pre-election, point-scoring squabble match. Certainly conducting another review is perhaps the last thing that we need right now as this paper-work would risk causing yet more delays.

In fairness the government are already restructuring the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office to adopt a more “commercial” focus. At the same time the culture secretary, Maria Miller, has called smaller ISPs (altnets) to attend a summit with BT next Monday to hopefully resolve some of the on-going problems (here). But still nobody is quite sure what the end result of all this will be.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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