The prime minister has pledged full gigabit coverage by 2025. That is only achievable with fresh thinking and sustained investmentby Julian Knight / August 31, 2020 / Leave a comment
There are few things that can’t be done digitally in 2020. Our increasing reliance on digital technology is borne out by data: during lockdown, people spent record amounts of time online, and Ofcom found that the number of adults making video calls doubled. Digital platforms have transformed the way we’re able to live and work, now providing a one-stop shop even for remotely accessing physical and cultural activities.
Such rapid advancements must be underpinned by world-class connectivity, and infrastructure that reaches all corners of the UK and ensures no one is left behind. Despite some progress, the UK still lags behind other countries in access to full-fibre broadband, capable of delivering gigabit speeds.
The decision to exclude Huawei from the 5G network, though undoubtedly the correct one for our national security, will cause further delays and add additional costs to a rollout that’s already overdue. Given where we are now, the prime minister’s pledge for full gigabit broadband coverage by 2025 is ambitious—but it provides a welcome focus for policymakers, industry and regulators.
The challenge of meeting the target calls for fresh thinking and sustained investment. It’s not just a matter of tackling barriers to the rollout of full-fibre and 5G, there’s also a question of demand. At present, just over half of those with access to “superfast” broadband speeds have adopted them. What will that mean for uptake of even faster, gigabit-capable services?
Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is conducting an inquiry into how government and industry can deliver the digital infrastructure that will serve businesses’ and individuals’ future needs. We will report our findings in the coming months. What’s clear from our experience during lockdown is that digital innovation will have a huge role to play in the economic recovery. But we can’t forget that millions of Britons were excluded from the rapid shift online. My committee heard troubling evidence of vulnerable people shielding in their homes, cut off from the outside world with no access to basic necessities.
One in five adults in the UK lack the digital skills the government considers essential for operating online. What that means in practice is less contact with friends…