Government broadband policy must refocus on business

Policy Exchange claims Whitehall has focused for too long on consumer and retail broadband and needs to give the enterprise equal attention

Broadband policy must look at the needs of enterprise and the growth it can provide the economy, rather than continuing to focus on consumer issues, says a new report from Policy Exchange.

The report – entitled the Superfast and the Furious – said while consumer requirements were important, there needed to be more championing of business needs when it came to connectivity.

“There has been an assumption by government that businesses can take care of themselves and, as a result, small businesses have fallen through the gaps,” Chris Yiu, head of digital government at Policy Exchange, told Computer Weekly.

“Lots of small businesses are fairly conservative about technology adoption and I was surprised that relatively few mentioned cloud, remote working and technologies that could bring them real business benefits.”

Chris Yiu said there needed to be more of a lead from government, specifically from the minister responsible for broadband, Ed Vaizey, to educate businesses on the benefits available.

“The role of the minister for the internet should be boosted, not just to cover speed or access, but to focus on the outcomes that matter,” Yiu added.

“Broadband is a means to an end and that end is jobs and growth – things that are important to pretty much every part of government.”

Policy Exchange also claimed the government was focusing too heavily on the speeds of broadband connections in the UK when what matters more to users was getting connections in the first place.

“For the general public, broadband price and reliability matter as much as raw speed, and the optimal trade-off will vary from home to home and over time,” said the report.

Policy Exchange backed up its assertions with findings from a survey of 2,000 people and 500 businesses. Two-thirds of respondents said it was more important for everyone to have basic broadband rather than to raise top speeds in select areas, while 79% believed every household in the UK should have access to the internet.

A spokesman from the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) – where Vaizey is based – said it was wrong to suggest the government was fixated solely on broadband speeds, with its strategy taking into account coverage, price and choice as well.

He said: “We believe that better speed underpins what people and businesses can do with the internet, and ensures that the broadband network will be fit for purpose in the future to support new technologies and demand levels.”

However, the spokesman agreed on the need for business to be put high on the agenda, saying engagement with small businesses was “one of the highest priorities” of the current broadband roll-outs, placed under umbrella of Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).

“BDUK are suggesting their demand stimulation campaigns cover SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), citizens and local government transformation – and SMEs are the top priority group,” the spokesman concluded.

“In addition, a number of projects are applying to the European Regional Development Fund for money to cover specific business support programmes.”

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