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Technology shouldn’t leave anyone behind, says Jeremy Wright

DCMS secretary of state highlights investment in 5G and superfast broadband, and says no one should be left behind by technology

Secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Jeremy Wright, promises to “do more” to increase broadband speed and mobile coverage across the UK.

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham yesterday (1 October), Wright highlighted the importance technology plays in the 21st century, but warned that everyone must be able to benefit from it.

The digital minister, who has only been in post for a few months following prime minister Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle, said he is proud of the party making superfast broadband available to 95% of premises, but added that it’s “not much comfort” for those 5% not covered.

“So we can and we must do more,” he said. “By 2020, everyone will have the right to minimum speeds of 10 megabits per second, and mobile coverage must expand further across the UK.”

“But technology is changing all the time and we must have infrastructure that can support whatever we will need in the future.

“That’s why we are investing in 5G mobile technology and developing what it can do,” said Wright, referring to the government’s plans for the West Midlands to become home to the UK’s first round of 5G trials, with connectivity hubs planned in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.

He also said that going forward, the focus will be on a “a fibre optic network for broadband that will really make us fit for the future”.

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Recent Ofcom figures show that as of May 2018, about 1.4 million premises, representing around 5% of the total number of properties in the UK, are now able to access a fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), or full-fibre, broadband connection. Although this is a significant milestone, there is still a way to go.

“We must also make sure everyone can benefit from what these technologies offer,” said Wright. “So as we build a fibre network, we will identify the places the market won’t reach on its own and we will connect them – not as an afterthought but in parallel with the places it’s profitable to connect.

“Because if technology has the power to connect us all, nobody should be left behind.”

He also warned against internet terror and abuse, saying there is nothing so special about the online world that normal rules of human behaviour and law shouldn’t apply.

“The time has come to define those rules and how they should apply online, and if that needs new law, that is what we will do. Britain can lead the world on this, and we should,” he said.

The digital minister also highlighted the importance of the UK’s digital economy, with tech firms in London receiving more venture capital funding in 2017 than all other major European cities combined – and the amount invested doubling since 2016.

Wright’s predecessor, Matt Hancock, was famously planning on delivering his speech as a hologram, but Wright quipped that he doesn’t think “our political debate needs more virtual reality, it needs more actual reality”.

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