Labour’s super fast broadband – too little too late?

Labour’s plan to deliver super fast broadband by 2020 to the UK has been described as: “Farcical and could put Britain’s competitiveness in the global economy into serious jeopardy,” according to Mark Seemann, product strategy and development director for cloud computing company, Outsourcery, which services over 10,000 SMEs in the UK.

Seemann continued: “With more and more of Britain’s communications dependent upon access to high speed internet connections, Britain has already become a two speed economy, with SMEs seriously disadvantaged by the poor broadband infrastructure, leaving it unable to cope with new technologies which require greater bandwidths to support the growing demand for real time, exchange of information.

“2020 is too late and if the issues are not addressed now, UK plc will fall far behind its American, European and Asian rivals,” he added. “Labour needs to define what fast broadband means. If the broadband is not fibre-based then its future is limited to about 100MB, making it obsolete almost immediately. It is projected that broadband requirements would be upwards of 1GB, so let’s just pay for the infrastructure once only and get it right now!”

With remote working becoming an integral part of daily business life, the government needs to look carefully at the cost to the economy of not providing blanket digital cover, noted Seemann. “The 50p per month levy-based system should not be limited to fixed line connections only, but should include access to mobile broadband (eg trains, tubes and buses). At present accessibility to broadband on trains is poor and patchy, leading to a loss of productivity when travelling.

“Not only are the government’s plans too little too late, but they do not go far enough to address the issues facing the UK’s business in the 21st century. We need to unlock the business and employment potential that high speed internet access offers,” he stated.

With the recovery in mind, government plans to issue a levy on fixed line broadband users to fund an investment in Britain’s broadband infrastructure will severely effect the small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), which will find their ambitions severely hampered by their inability to access high speed, low contention network services.
With SMEs making up 97% of the British economy, they will play a critical part of the recovery and the lack of adequate broadband is hampering the SMEs as well as the UK.

“Access to broadband is becoming vital for the growth and survival of over four million SMEs in the UK and it is critical that the government invests in broadband infrastructure if Britain is to compete effectively in the global economy,” said Seemann. “Broadband is rapidly achieving utility status and all types of communications including phone systems, UC and cloud computing, are becoming increasingly reliant on an already under capacity system.”

Lacking ambition
The Federation of Small Businesses has already lambasted these plans for lacking ambition, accusing government of being in a “time warp”. Seemann said the nation’s copper infrastructure desperately needs to be upgraded to fibre optic in order to satisfy businesses’ requirements both now and in future.

Digital Britain is not helping SMEs get faster connectivity because many don’t have the money for long distance, high speed connections, he claimed. Those SMEs that do have access to ‘business grade’ broadband still suffer from downtime when the service offered by network providers slows or goes offline because of traffic congestion at peak times.

Seemann added that if the government really is serious about ensuring businesses have access to high speed broadband, it should regulate the service, imposing hefty penalties on network providers who have frequent outages, and force them to compensate small businesses whose livelihood has suffered due to their services being offline.

“The Government should set out strict standards based on metrics for the next generation broadband, not just the speed but the quality of the connection, including the latency and packet loss as these metrics this will dictate the types of services that can reliably be run over it,” said Seemann. “For instance, HD video conferencing needs not only high speed but also low latency and packet loss in order to operate effectively.”

Paul Lawton, managing director at Opal, added: “Gordon Browns pledge to give every home in the UK access to superfast broadband, which is by definition, a minimum of 2Mbps, is an important moment for the industry. However, if we are to maximise the real value of the next generation fund, it’s crucial that we don’t disregard businesses.

Lawton continued: “For small home based businesses in particular, the move will open up huge opportunities as they will be able to piggy-back on the new infrastructure to provide services and applications they previously didn’t have the bandwidth to support. We would urge the government to consider specific guidelines for business as they rely on superfast broadband to carry out effective and efficient business processes and remain competitive, more important than ever coming out of a recession.”

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