Government Must Deliver on Broadband Pledge, say Business Groups
Small business groups have urged the Government not to backtrack on plans to provide high-speed broadband nationwide by 2017, or risk the collapse of enterprise in rural areas.
In 2009, the Labour Government pledged to provide a minimum broadband speed of 2 Mbps for everyone in the UK by 2012, then in the March 2010 Budget it announced plans to roll out super-fast broadband to 90% of the UK by 2017.
However, while the new Government has agreed to stick to the commitment to provide 2 Mbps broadband nationwide, it has not confirmed a timetable for this or funding plans. In the Emergency Budget, it suggested the expense would be funded by the private sector — not by a broadband levy as previously planned.
On BBC Radio 5’s Live Drive programme on 14 July, BT Openreach chief executive, Steve Robertson, warned that the Government’s broadband plans could only be achieved with public funds of £2 billion, but said there was little public funding available to meet these costs.
Forum of Private Business spokesman, Chris Gorman, said that the Government must find a way to ensure that broadband access is universal, or small firms in rural areas may not survive.
“We don’t want to see rural areas become commuter belts with no enterprise and no life. So if there is any way it can be done, every area should have cost-effective access to decent broadband speeds in the near future.”
“Businesses these days rely on having a fast Internet connection and many small firms in villages and small towns can only sustain themselves by selling online. We hope that the Government and the telecoms companies take this issue very seriously at their conference.”
Federation of Small Businesses policy chairman, Mike Cherry, agreed.
“The UK is lagging behind internationally as its small firms, particularly in rural areas, cannot develop their business online, which is vital for the growth of our economy."
A Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said that the Government was still “absolutely committed” to making the UK the fastest broadband nation in Europe by 2015.
Commenting on the broadband plans, culture minister, Jeremy Hunt, said:
“Before we embark on legislation or start committing scarce public resources, we need to explore cost-effective ways of achieving our aims so I want to hear from companies about their proposals and willingness to work towards mutually beneficial commercial arrangements.”