Business Eye: Institutional denial of slow broadband speeds

Alex Pratt
Alex Pratt

On Monday I spoke at the House of Lords about the need to ramp up our investment into digital infrastructure.

Listening to the government and Ofcom you could easily think that we are living a parallel universe where their certainty as to the advanced nature of our broadband reach and speeds is completely at odds with the mailbag on the subject.

I noticed Vale MP John Bercow recently raised the issue.

Earlier this month Ofcom used a selective ranking of countries to suggest the UK to be number one amongst major EU nations for superfast broadband, an assertion which could best be described as economical with the facts.

The public and businesses might well question the statement, set against their own direct experience and that of everyone else they speak to.

In ranking us as top within the five EU nations selected for ‘superfast’ broadband, Ofcom used a low threshold speed of just 30Mbps.

In the real world, such a threshold is absurdly slow.

It compares with genuine ‘superfast’ available in other EU states and in Asia where speeds of 1000Mbps/1Gbps are universally available.

Tellingly, when ranked against all 27 EU states and not just the five Ofcom conveniently chose for the sake of a headline, the UK ranks tenth, behind countries like Portugal, Lithuania and Latvia.

Secondly, the truth is there are about 10 million homes and businesses according to the government’s own figures to be supported with public funding to 
deliver ‘target’ broadband speeds of just 2-24 Mbps.

Such speeds are well below even Ofcom’s low threshold.

These ‘have nots’, which include some of our most productive business premises in rural locations like Bucks, are being left to languish in the slow connectivity lane indefinitely.

Despite a huge local effort to invest in getting us at least some broadband access for most, the speeds we are being offered do not support remaining the third most productive economy in the country. In other words, jobs are under threat.

Painting an unduly rosy picture serves us badly. It amounts to institutional denialof the need for a significant change in policy.

If we can afford HS2 then surely we can afford to connect properly to the internet.