The government is continually stressing the importance of high speed internet access to the economic competitiveness of the UK. However the rhetoric hasn’t really been met with much action – particularly if you live outside London or one of a handful of major cities.
So the news that Ofcom has agreed a revised, earlier timetable for the launch of 4G services is obviously a good thing. High speed mobile data services should now launch by Spring 2013, a full six months earlier than originally planned. And for some people it will come even earlier as EE (the owner of Orange and T-Mobile) will offer 4G services on its existing spectrum to users in 16 cities by the end of 2012. Neither Cambridge nor Oxford is among them as they’ve essentially been picked on population.
When it comes to broadband, the government has carved up a £114m pot between 10 cities to provide 100Mbps access to businesses and consumers. However it doesn’t look like this will help it hit its own target of delivering super fast broadband to 90% of business premises by 2015.
Lots of efforts, lots of rhetoric, but there’s a real risk of a digital divide developing here. I live in a rural area (Suffolk) where basic mobile phone reception is patchy and broadband speeds are much slower than in a city. Obviously it’s my choice where I live but if government wants a competitive economy it can’t afford to neglect any area. Otherwise you’ll see villages simply turn into commuter housing with workers driving off to where there are jobs, increasing congestion, hitting the environment and damaging communities. A huge number of businesses can now be run from anywhere – all they need is decent broadband and a mobile phone signal. In turn this means parents can work from home (or closer to it), reducing the need for childcare costs and allowing them to get more involved in their kids’ education.
To borrow a topical phrase, we are one nation, from Land’s End to (subject to referendum) John O’Groats. What we need is strong government action that invests in infrastructure to ensure that all of us have access to high speed internet access (both fixed and mobile) – it will stimulate the economy, improve people’s lives and reduce commuting. And in the meantime please don’t send 22 meg attachments as it knocks the whole village offline…….