Be bold, go big.
This blog post is also my submission for the UK’s digital strategy.
My case for revolution and not incremental evolution.
Whenever I think back to my early years of education, I remember the impact the installation of broadband and computers had on my East London school. They were large, in their early years but oh so fun to use. Fast forward around 10+ years to 2016, the UK now has a burgeoning digital sector, both private and public. Unfortunately, the very backbone of this all, our broadband network, is patchy at best and practically non-existent at worse.
My submission for the UK’s next digital strategy is a nationwide Gigabit FTTP (Fibre-to-the-property) broadband network. A network in which anyone, from John O’Groats to Land’s End, could seamlessly use to connect with others and Government digital services without feeling like 21st connectively is yet to reach their village, city, town or even their street (see below).
As a country, our broadband network has grown immensely in scale and capacity since the days of dial-up internet and clunky, non-networked phones. Yet, as we enter 2016, you can still find those who either struggle to get online, aren’t online at all (5.9m), or even lack basic digital skills. The problem is especially acute in Wales, where a third of the population lack these basic skills.
In 2010, Martha Lane Fox’s ‘Revolution not Evolution’ report kicked off a wave of change which has seen the transformation agenda within Government go from strength to strength. An example of which can be seen here. Another illustration of the spreading impact of building great digital services is the creation of NHS Digital. Yet, we still have stark connectivity contrasts. Great digital services are no good if you cannot access them within our own borders. Take our own capital city, London for example, a residential road in South London experiences average broadband speeds of 1.41megabits per second(Mbps) where as another street in North London averages 64.56Mbps.
This is precisely why we need a wholesale revolution, not an incremental evolution, in the availability, capability and accessibility of our national broadband network. Whether you’re living or working from a rural or urban setting, it shouldn’t quite literally come down to where you live or work to determine whether your broadband connection is fit for purpose.
An independent FTTP network to every residential and commercial property could have transformative effects. Commercially, people could genuinely be able to work from home. Just think of the impact on parents who’ve taken leave but don’t want to feel as if they need to stop working altogether. For public sector workers such as the thousands of GPs across the country. Perhaps they could access online training and discussions without even needing to leave their practice. Crucially, those in the most remote areas will be able to confidently connect to the wider country once they’ve been taught basic digital skills.
Upon its completion, the network could run on a not for profit basis, renting out its capability to internet providers. Any profits could then be used to deliver digital skills inclusion training to the many millions who don’t as yet have such skills.
Just think about what a properly connected UK could achieve, economically, socially and geographically. It’ll take decades at our current goal of ‘up to 76Mbps Super-fast broadband’. Gigabit services already exist but on a very limited scale.
The rest of the country should be able to access such services, at competitive prices through an independent network in which we’re not locked into the monopoly of one provider.
It’s not like we cannot do it, we built all of our Olympic facilities in 7 years.
So again I say, the UK needs a digital revolution not evolution through the creation of a national Gigabit FTTP network is required.