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April 2021
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Moonshot: Giving the gift of gigabit broadband by 2025

By Evan Wienburg, CEO of Truespeed

Normally at this time of year, Oxford Dictionaries comes up with a word of the year. But, in light of the extraordinary and seismic events we’ve seen in 2020, the Oxford team produced instead a whole list in their “Words of an unprecedented year” report. Along with words encompassing the

Evan Wienberg

coronavirus pandemic and social movements witnessed around the globe, ‘Unmute’ and ‘Zoombombing’ were chosen to represent our growing use of technology as people have adapted to working from home. And it comes as no surprise that the words ‘remote’ and ‘remotely’ have seen a significant rise in usage this year. For anyone who has struggled with the frustrations of substandard broadband whilst WFH, there are several other words and phrases that could have been added to the list. How many of us have been in team meetings this year only to find someone can’t turn on their camera or quickly upload a megabit hungry digital file because their broadband simply isn’t up the job.

Already lagging behind many other European countries in terms of broadband speeds, UK plc cannot afford all the time that’s wasted watching spinning wheels and buffering percentages on screen. For the increasing number of home-based workers running complex digital programmes, as well as school children and students accessing a variety of essential educational platforms, access to ultrafast, ultra-reliable connectivity is essential.

Things are definitely moving in the right direction but it’s still the fortunate minority – around 22% of the UK according to the latest figures – who have access to the gigabit capable broadband speeds that the UK government is keen to unleash across the UK to underpin growth, improve opportunities, increase productivity and bridge the digital connectivity divide. But at the other end of the scale, over 600,000 UK properties are still unable to get a decent fixed broadband service of 10Mbps – with rural areas in particular bearing the brunt.

Without a doubt, Gigabit-capable broadband connectivity is going to be an essential building block in the UK’s economic and educational renewal so levelling up this digital divide remains a priority. In terms of broadband infrastructure, levelling up is not a case of north versus south, but rather harder-to-connect communities versus major conurbations where the build economics look far more impressive. Regardless of UK post-code, it’s vital that everyone is afforded the same digital possibilities, with access to full fibre broadband infrastructure and digital tools at their fingertips.

As part of the Chancellor’s recent spending review, the UK government’s plan to get gigabit-speed broadband to every home by 2025 has been rolled back to a “minimum of 85 per cent coverage” but the ambition remains. And the overall budget for the planned rollout was not touched, remaining at £5 billion, although only £1.2 billion of the budget will be made available up until 2024.

We’re making great inroads in getting the full fibre show on the road – recent figures suggest that nearly 15% of premises can now order a Gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) service – but of course there’s still much more to be done to accelerate roll-out and deliver on this ambitious target.

To steal another OED word of the year, delivering on the promise of full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband for everyone the length and breadth of the country isn’t a moonshot. Certainly an ambitious project, but doable provided we all pull together as an industry. Local and national government need to accelerate the pace at which full fibre rollouts are green lighted – particularly in harder to reach areas. And infrastructure providers need to continue apace with competitive offerings to accelerate rollout – not just for towns and cities, but in rural areas and traditionally hard to connect historic cities so those working and living in these areas don’t get left behind.

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