Businesses are urging the government to boost the economic recovery by stepping up investment in digital broadband.
Digital Business First, a coalition of businesses in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, claims that countrywide broadband coverage is essential for economic growth.
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A report published by the group warns that business growth in rural areas are being held back by the lack of adequate coverage.
It calls on the UK to make investment in digital broadband a strategic priority to boost the national economy.
“The government’s present course is paved with good intentions, but failing too many communities," the report said.
Some eight million premises in the UK fall outside high-speed network coverage and many areas lack even basic mobile phone coverage, the report reveals.
It argues that a 10% increase in the penetration of broadband could generate a 1% increase in GDP per capita in the UK – a significantly greater rate of return than other infrastructure projects.
Competitors overtaking Europe on digital investment
Speaking at a meeting of politicians, industry, and European regulators, Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Union, said that many businesses lacked adequate broadband coverage.
“While the UK is slightly better connected than the European average, there are still too many people and businesses without the access and speed they really, need,” she said.
The US, South Korea and China are overtaking Europe in broadband investment, she warned.
Broadband would boost GDP
Alex Pratt, chair of the local enterprise partnership for Buckinghamshire, said the economic case for fast broadband was overwhelming.
“The return on investment for tax payers' money in this area is a compelling, certainly when you compare it with other tax payer funded projects like High Speed 2 (HS2),” he said.
Counties like Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire produce an above average number of entrepreneurial businesses, but they find it hard to grow because of the poor communications infrastructure in the county, the meeting heard.
“Buckinghamshire does not have cities and conurbations. Therefore it does not get investment in broadband and 3G,” said Pratt. “Our productivity capacity is being damaged by geography.”
“The patchwork quilt of infrastructure, the digital-haves and have-nots, is not something we can continue to live with,” he said.
Small businesses in the region are suffering because of low broadband speeds and poor mobile phone reception, he said.