CBI Urges Speed on Rural Broadband Scheme

Britain’s biggest business organisation, the CBI, urges Minsters to speed up the country’s superfast broadband scheme to rural customers

NetworkToday the CBI has said that ministers must work harder to complete the £300 million scheme to privide superfast broadband to rural customers.

The CBI argues that rolling out superfast broadband to Britain’s rural "not spots" will encourage new growth opportunities throughtout the country.

Only last year, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt promised that the UK would have the fastest broadband in Europe by 2015. But just last week the National Audit Office said they believed that the scheme to connect rural customers was two years behind schedule.

The NAO report said that only 9 of the 44 rural areas targetted for increased connectivity would get their superfast internet and another 4 areas would miss their 2017 deadline of receiving an upgrade.

Furthermore the report, The rural broadband programme, said that there was a distinct lack of competition driving the delivery of superfast broadband.

The CBI are worried that the cash for the programme is being held back until the next election and say that it would be better spent right now to unlock the potential of the UK’s rural businesses.

Existing local schemes would benefit from the cash injection right now and the CBI agrees with the NAO that a broader rnage of suppliers would help to bring forward the completion of the project.

The CBI wants all political parties to "buy in" to the drive to connect the country’s rural locations and thinks that the same values that drove the Victorians to bring electricity and railways to the nation should be rediscovered.

At the same time the CBI warns against complacency, pointing out that whilst Britain boasts being the world’s largest online retail market, that is no reason to sit back whilst other nations catch up. In addition, the CBI also believes that thousand of UK SMEs are not maximising their use of digital tehcnology and will benefit from the prusuit of innovation.

Katja Hall, Chief Policy Director at the CBI, said:

“We must close the rural/urban internet divide. It’s a huge concern that many areas still lack the high-speed connectivity that the rest of the country takes for granted.”

“Broader, faster digital networks are revolutionising how society and business operate, just as the Victorian rail and electrification systems transformed the world in the 1800s.”

Hall added that broadband is as vital as other aspects of the country’s infrastructure, saying:

“Firms and industry need to know where they stand before investing for the long-term – with digital now as fundamental to business as transport or energy networks. Digital policy is not an optional add-on, it’s central to fuelling long-term growth through inward investment, job creation and exports.”

“We cannot wait another two years for this investment to start flowing and we need clarity on the further £50m originally set aside, which still remains uncommitted. It will be far quicker to invest in existing innovative, ongoing local and industry schemes now to unlock economic and social benefits.”

In a report called Let’s Get Digital (PDF), the CBI have outlined a number of areas where they believe the country’s digital future can be guaranteed including:

  • Reviewing not just where digital infrastructure will be in two years time but in ten years
  • Revising the National Infrastructure Plan to deliver digital networks for major construction projects
  • Getting more small businesses into e-commerce and digital business by raising awareness and adding skills
  • Using public services online to drive digital demand
  • Creating more digital partnerships in business and industry

Research from the CBI has shown that if more SMEs were marketing and doing business online they could generate £18.8 billion a year for the UK economy.

Related Articles

For more about getting online and going digital, read our Get Britain Growing article on How SMEs play a vital role in the UK economy.

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