Why is improving the UK’s broadband important?

So, I don’t do politics as a rule – I certainly don’t really blog about it or talk about it in my day-to-day work life. But the Autumn Statement created some interesting headlines for someone who keeps an eye on all things internet related. I’m not going to talk about the increase in public borrowing or the funds for building houses. The headline that caught my attention was:

More than £1bn for digital infrastructure and 100% business rates relief on new fibre infrastructure

Digital infrastructure, that means the internet right? It does, but the £1bn isn’t just for the provision of “ultra-fast” broadband services. £740m is spread across the rollout of fibre-only services and the development of 5G services. The other £400m is an investment fund where private investors need to match their grant from the £400m. But why is this £1bn important?

Almost everything we do today is online. There aren’t many elements of our daily lives that are not online in some form. How many people this weekend logged on to Amazon Prime via their television to watch the return of Clarkson, Hammond and May in The Grand Tour? The way we consume our entertainment is changing, the way we work is changing.

Many of us at TSG have the ability to work from wherever we are. This is made possible by the fact that broadband is now a commodity product. There are not many people in the UK who don’t have an internet connection. If only the speed of the internet matched its popularity.

For a specialist in telecoms, my home broadband speed is embarrassing. 4Mbps download and 0.6Mbps, and the estate is relatively new. For day-to-day working and browsing the internet, that is fine for just me. Add my family using the internet to the equation, or doing something like a video call or webinar, and my internet just doesn’t cut it. So off to the office I go for those type of events. 

But why is it important, why is bandwidth such an important commodity? Let’s go back to the streaming of The Grand Tour. The way we consume our television isn’t only moving to on-demand/streaming services. We also want this in at least High Definition, if not 4K (Ultra High Definition). UHD requires 25Mbps download! Three people streaming different TV shows in the house equates to 75Mbps, and your fibre broadband connection maxed out. 

The bandwidth we need is only important in these real time communications (streaming TV, video calls, voice calls). For surfing Facebook, emails and completing your shopping (remember, it’s Black Friday tomorrow), we could still function on the first iteration of broadband. Now, we expect so much more from our internet and the way we (and our children, and our children’s children) consume media will have big bearing on the development of a tool I remember for email and research for school projects.

So the news that the government want to help improve my broadband so I can work more efficiently from my home office (or watch The Grand Tour in UHD/4K) is welcome. The thing is, I’m not sure the money will spread far and wide.  

The fact that only 2% of us can get true fibre broadband to our front door suggests the £1bn falls extremely short of the money needed for the additional 93% to cover 95% of the population. Bear in mind the cost for the 5% of rural users. 

With businesses, broadband speeds are largely determined by the technology rolled out to the residential users in the area. The impact of the Autumn Statement announcement will be seen over the coming years as the Internet Service Providers (ISPs, including TSG partners Zen Internet and Gamma) work with the government to get the most from this £1bn to improve connectivity for businesses throughout the UK.