John Whittingdale is Secretary of State for Culture and MP for Maldon.
The pace and scale of technological change in our lifetime has been incredible. Services that a few decades ago were figments of a few brilliant people’s imaginations are now regarded as essential.
Broadband helps us to organise, enhance and enrich our lives. We use it to keep in touch with relatives, friends and work contacts in far-flung parts of the world. Children go online to play games and do their homework. We download movies and TV shows on our laptops. Many of us benefit from online shopping – some of us rely on it. Increasingly, people are interacting with core service providers, including their GP, through their computer.
And if this country is to stay ahead in global race, if we want to build on our success as the fastest growing major economy in the world – we need to remember that a world-class economy requires world-class broadband connections. Everyone across the whole of our country should have the security and opportunity that high-speed broadband brings. There is more to do – but we have already made real progress.
Thanks to a major Government effort, by the end of September an additional 3,311,843 premises had access to superfast broadband through the Broadband Delivery UK programme.
Superfast broadband is now available to 83 per cent of homes and businesses across the UK – up from 45 per cent in 2010. The project aimed to deliver speeds of 24mbps or faster: we are seeing average speeds of around twice that. And by the end of 2017, we will deliver on our 2015 manifesto commitment and connect 95 per cent of the UK to superfast broadband services.
This week, we announced another triumph on the road to superfast broadband roll-out: our Broadband Connection Voucher Scheme. In the last seven months alone, more than 37,000 businesses have snapped up the vouchers. Altogether, more than 55,000 small and medium-sized business right across the UK – which employ a million people – won Government grants of up to £3,000 to cover the cost of installing faster and better broadband. Some companies pooled their vouchers to get ultrafast band.
A Government investment of £40 million since April this year has benefited British business and helped them grow and compete in this digital age. Among them are architects, estate agents, mechanics, events coordinators, cafes, graphic designers and caterers – who are reporting, on average, a £1,300 annual increase in profits. Firms are telling us that a new job has been created for every four new connections. For every £1 the Government invested in the scheme, more than £5 will be returned to the economy.
The impact of this scheme is impressive. And this is just the start: 86 per cent of the value of the scheme went to smaller broadband suppliers; some suppliers have extended their networks to new parts of the country. Metronet, for example, expanded from Birmingham and Leeds to Newcastle and Bradford. There is substantial private investment in our network already, and this scheme has stimulated the market to go further and faster and shone a light on SME demand for broadband.
Now we intend to go further. Last month, the Prime Minister announced our plans to give people a legal right to request an affordable broadband connection, no matter where they live. This “Universal Service Obligation” will be much like guarantees that already exist to provide universal access to electricity, water, postal services and telephone landlines.
It is no coincidence the UK has wider coverage, better take-up and usage, more choice and lower broadband prices than Germany, France, Italy and Spain. We are top of the five largest European economies when it comes to broadband, and our connectivity is going from strength to strength. But there is still some way to go. Ofcom says 10Mbps (megabits per second) is the speed a typical family needs, but many households still can’t get that kind of connection. Some do not have access to broadband at all.
I am determined that no-one should miss out. In fact, there is no reason why the next great British tech centre should not emerge in the countryside rather than in somewhere like Cambridge or Salford – terrific though those places are!
The UK is already a leading digital economy, which drives investment, growth and jobs. Our task now is to secure and enhance that position and support the next generation of inventors and business owners – as well as increasing opportunities and improving experiences for TV-lovers, online shoppers and families countrywide.
Anyone interested in going superfast can find out more at: www.gov.uk/gosuperfast. We’ve come a long way, but the most exciting developments are yet to come.