Once a top ten competitor on internet speeds, the UK has fallen to 49th place in the global speed league tables. And with the pandemic highlighting the postcode lottery of broadband speeds available to internet users across the UK, significant rapid funding is required if Britain is going to be able to compete on the global stage in the future.
The government has continually claimed it was making record investments in the UK’s digital infrastructure, with a £5bn plan for gigabit internet unveiled by Rishi Sunak. However, years of under-funding, delays, and poor planning from the top has left Britain’s digital networks slower than almost all of Europe.
If the UK to going to keep its tech and digital start-ups despite strong competition from other European hubs, then Westminster is going to need to think big and spend bigger on internet technologies, but the recent downgrading of plans is not a good sign. The government had planned to offer 1Gbps internet connections to all homes by 2025, but that plan has now been downgraded to 85 per cent of homes, and the government’s “dismal failure” to make progress on the project to date according to MPs makes for a troubling trajectory.
The economy of the future is digital
It has been clear for many years that the future of business is online, and for the UK to compete on a global level businesses and home users need access to reliable superfast internet connectivity. For too long the government has failed to invest the funds needed to roll out reliable fast broadband to everyone in the UK, and the recent downgrade of the gigabit plan to only cover 85 per cent of the country’s population demonstrates that yet again Westminster will not invest where it is most needed.
A bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland may be useful for some mythical plans for the Union, but if the government really wants to “level up” everywhere in the UK then pound-for-pound there is nothing better to invest in than digital infrastructure. And if the Westminster does not want to lose its digital and tech start-ups to European cities, which often have internet speeds twice that of the UK, then they will need to act quickly.
Britain’s internet postcode lottery
There is a huge disparity in internet speeds across the UK. This has been true for decades, but this year the situation has been laid bare as we have collectively turned to the web for both work and study.
Without access to a fast and reliable internet connection, people are unable to work remotely, essentially pushing them out of the workforce for much of the last year. And without the ability to Zoom into their classes, children without access to fast internet over the last year have fallen behind in their studies, some to such an extent that the results may be felt for decades to come.
These areas, cut-off from the high speed networks many of us rely on every day, risk being left behind. Most people already use a broadband postcode checker before they buy a new home, and in 2021 few would choose somewhere that is not well-connected. And without a thriving population, why would any business choose that location for their new venture. Unless the situation is rectified quickly, poor connectivity could push some towns into terminal decline.
Cities are the winners of the internet lottery, with new competitors pushing prices down and speeds up, with some areas lucky enough to have a choice of a dozen or more fibre providers competing for their business. However, for the UK to succeed on a global scale, everywhere needs to have their internet levelled up as soon as possible.