The discussion was focused on the government’s role in continuing to invest in broadband after its current commitments are reached in 2015. The roster for the event was packed with hard hitters, including Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk Group, Steve Unger, Chief Technology Officer at OfCom, and Chris Yiu, Head of the Digital Government Unit at Policy Exchange.
Three key issues were explored by the speakers:
- What policymakers should be focusing on beyond speed and league tables
- Enabling a healthy, competitive and sustainable marketplace for connectivity
- Ensuring consumers and businesses make best use of the internet
Ed Vaizey led the pack by acknowledging how the improvement of connectivity in rural areas will bolster local economies. He also touched on the need to cut red tape through planning reforms in order to deliver broadband infrastructure in a cost-effective manner.
Chris Yiu, resident expert at the Policy Exchange on all things digital (tweet him: @PXDigitalGov), believes input from public and private interests are the key to expanding the capacity of broadband in the UK. As a country with an internet economy as the highest share of GDP among G20 countries, the UK must encourage competition amongst internet service providers, as well as nurture strong customers.
Dido Harding took the stage and linked the issue of broadband to the topic of Health & Social Care, a field PLMR deals with every day. According to the report, 10.8 million people are not online – half of whom are over 65. Dido rightly pointed to the fact that these are the people whose lives would be most transformed if they had access to broadband – as their contact with family and friends would increase, they could access medication refills and grocery deliveries more readily, and would feel more socially engaged – when often this demographic feels the most isolated.
Dido also pointed to the fact that one third of small and medium enterprises in the UK are not yet able to trade online – which drastically impacts the UK’s GDP.
Finally, Steven Unger established the relationship between speed and usage of broadband – debunking the theory that the faster the speed, the more users will flock to the service.
Regardless of the debate over whether the UK government should be engaged with broadband policy beyond 2015, the human element of this equation persists. It is simply not tenable that over 10 million people live in the UK without any access to the internet regardless of speed, and the soft spot in me deeply hopes we strive to ensure every grandparent soon has the ability to catch up with their grandkids before bed time.