September 17, 2012 | Tim Johnson
The new Culture Minister, Maria Miller, should take her opportunity to change the country’s broadband targets says a leading broadband expert. Speaking at the Westminster eForum’s “Broadband Britain Seminar” in Whitehall tomorrow (Tuesday, 11 September) Tim Johnson, founder of Point Topic, the broadband analysts will explain why.
Setting out the case for change, Johnson will say that “the existing goal of ‘having the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015’ is not achievable as stated. Worse than that, it’s not relevant to Britain’s needs and should be replaced by more intelligent targets which address Britain’s real broadband weaknesses.”
“We do need a massive programme of investment in providing homes and businesses with good quality internet access, and getting people to use it,” he will say. “That way we will get a real return in terms of economic growth, far more than if we are just chasing after speed records.”
Rather than trying to be best in Europe, Britain would find it more useful to benchmark itself against the other major European countries – France, Germany and Italy. Contrary to widespread impression, Point Topic’s research shows that Britain’s broadband infrastructure compares quite well with the other members of the “Big Four” but placing clearly ahead of them, particularly Germany, by 2015, would still be a significant challenge.
More important though will be to target three big “gaps” in the British broadband scene which Johnson identifies. “This is where the government’s priorities should be,” he says.
According to Point Topic, over 3 million homes and businesses in the UK still cannot get broadband of at least 2 megabits per second download speed – the minimum for effective use of mainstream applications today. The government should be moving more resources to fill this gap rather than chasing after maximum coverage of superfast broadband Johnson believes.
Not enough is being done to ensure that broadband services are fit for purpose. For example, there should be measures to ensure that broadband services can support video streaming properly or interactive working from home. This could work through regulation of how services are advertised as well as being a requirement for projects with government funding.
And the biggest gap of all is the social one. Point Topic’s statistics show that over 7m homes are without fixed line internet access. Bringing these families into the internet community would not only improve life for them, it would spin off a whole range of other economic benefits, from increasing the size of the internet market to raising educational and working skills and saving time and money for the families which need it most.
“We will be spending hundreds of millions to ensure that more people take up sport after the Olympics,” Johnson points out. “It’s at least as important to get more people taking up the internet.”
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