What could superfast broadband possibly do for the economy?

 

The culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has outlined plans to provide every community in the UK with superfast broadband connections by 2015, in his speech at the “Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future” event.

The government will release £830 million from its purse over the next 7 years, to build the foundations for super fast broadband connections with the aim of becoming “Europe’s best”. It is expected that approximately 90% of the country will benefit from the new speeds, which will reach up to 100 megabits per second (mbps).

But there’s a long way to go.

A recent report by Point Topic ranked Britain 24th for broadband value for money, and in his speech, Mr Hunt provided figures which revealed just how far the UK is behind other states:

“Only 15% of UK subscribers currently have speeds above five mbps, compared with 65 per cent in South Korea. And only 0.2% of UK households had a superfast broadband connection at the end of last year – compared to 12% in Sweden and 34% in Japan.”

The value of high-speed broadband is uncertain, but all speculators agree on one thing; the benefits to the employment market and the economy will be considerable:

“The LSE believe a superfast network will create 280,000 new jobs, while NESTA believe it will be more like 600,000. The Federation of Small Businesses believes it could add £18bn to GDP”, says Hunt. This echoes what former Chancellor Alistair Darling said before summer.

Sebastian Lahtinen, co-founder of thinkbroadband.com agrees and said super-fast broadband will change the way Brits use the web.

“It will help individuals interact with governments and businesses in a more efficient and personal way,” he said. According to Lahtinen, there has been a surge in the use of ‘telepresence’, a type of high-resolution video conferencing which “creates the feeling that you are physically in the same room”.

“Being able to take part in a meeting from home will mean saving on travel costs, and more importantly allowing you to spend your time more effectively whether that means more time with the family or to complete other work,” added Lahtinen. “Many people are looking to start their own businesses, and by having access to high speed broadband, they can put off renting an office which can present a significant cost saving, and possibly even make the difference between profitability when times are tough.”

Citing examples from around the world, Hunt also commented on the way a super fast broadband service can create opportunities to transform public services:

“Australia, for example, where higher speed broadband has led to the School of the Air – a distance learning initiative which brings together students from remote areas in online classrooms.

“Or America, where Snap! VRS uses teleconferencing to connect deaf citizens with sign language interpreters who can help them during medical consultations or with other services.”

MediaWeek, 06.12.2010

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