Broadband strategy risks leaving communities behind

THE GOVERNMENT broadband strategy’s focus on delivering certain speeds risks leaving people and businesses in areas of the UK behind, according to a report published by the House of Lords Communications Committee this week.

And local MP Mike Weir agrees that broadband is now as important a piece of national infrastructure as our transport network and needs investment to ensure everyone has equal access.

The communications committee says that the government is preoccupied with speed rather than focusing on access and the imperative of creating a ‘future proof’ national network which is built to last.

As a result, members are concerned that the government’s investment in this area could be a tremendous missed opportunity, albeit that it is not too late to change course.

As part of an alternative approach, the committee argued that policy in this area should be driven by the need to arrest and ultimately eliminate the digital divide rather than deliver enhanced provision for those with already good connections.

Fundamentally, the committee reported that broadband provision should be considered a key part of our national infrastructure, and proposes a new vision that focuses on enabling access and reducing the digital divide.

The realisation of the committee’s proposal lies in the creation of a robust and resilient national network, bringing open access fibre-optic hubs within reach of every community. Open access to these fibre-optic hubs would provide a platform for local communities and businesses to access the broadband provision they want in the short term, and to upgrade that access flexibly as needs evolve over time.

Mr Weir commented: “The report makes some very pertinent points about the UK government strategy for broadband. It is absolutely vital that rural areas have a fast broadband connection as much as urban ones. Many small businesses now rely on the Internet and inadequate broadband speed is a real barrier to establishing business in rural areas.

“Increasingly, government departments and other organisations look for forms to be filled online which is a nightmare if you do not have an adequate broadband connection.”

He continued: “There is a real problem with the infrastructure which in many cases simply cannot cope with demand. I have dealt with instances where people on the smaller exchanges just outside Arbroath and other towns cannot get broadband because the exchange is at capacity. Real investment needs to be made to upgrade these and ensure that fast broadband is available to everyone.

“Broadband is now as important a piece of national infrastructure as our transport network and needs investment to ensure everyone has equal access. This is an infrastructure investment that would boost business which we desperately need if we are to get out of this recession.

“I raised this issue with the Office of Fair Trading during their recent report into rural areas, arguing that there is a real regulatory and competition issue in the way broadband is delivered. I have also raised it directly with Ofcom. Both need to look at measures to ensure fairness in delivery of broadband to complement effective increased investment if we are to ever address this issue.”