UK workers demand economic recovery to be built on better internet access

Cisco announces index of broadband services in the UK and reveals lead role in government’s levelling-up initiative designed to help close the digital divide

As the UK economy emerges from the Covid-driven slowdown and businesses begin to reopen, a strong majority of workers think the post-pandemic recovery must be built on better internet access, says the inaugural Cisco Broadband Index.

The study, conducted by independent research specialist Censuswide, surveyed 2,000 employees in the UK, asking workers about their current home broadband use patterns, changes they anticipate in the near future and emerging expectations.

The top-line finding of the Cisco Broadband Index was that while people’s working lives were more connected than ever before, concern was rising over the accessibility of internet services, which nearly 70% of UK workers believe will underpin economic growth.

Just over half (54%) of the workers surveyed spent seven hours a day online and two-fifths said they had missed out on critical services such as healthcare or education during lockdowns because of connectivity issues. Two-thirds of workers saw the affordability of broadband as prohibitive to low-income households and three-quarters believed they would not return to their pre-pandemic levels of home internet use.

As firms look to the future, nearly half of those surveyed said it was more important to invest further in connectivity, rather than other utilities such as water and electricity, with 66% saying connectivity was now a necessity. UK workers have provided a clear mandate, with almost three in four expressing their desire to see an acceleration of the UK’s goals to provide fast and reliable connectivity.

David Meads, chief executive at Cisco UK & Ireland, said: “Almost overnight, the expectations of professionals and consumers around the world fundamentally changed. For many of us, the way we connect with colleagues, companies and services is incomparable to just over a year ago, and 75% of workers in the UK do not plan to go back to how they used the internet prior to the pandemic. While the appetite to connect is clear, opportunity to benefit from the digital economy still remains a challenge for many.”

Another clear finding from the research was the worrying aspect of the UK’s digital divide. According to research from UK comms regulator Ofcom, 96% of homes in the UK technically have access to connectivity, yet it is estimated that only 60% now take up services. The Cisco research showed that 67% see affordability of reliable broadband as a major issue affecting lower-income households.

Such findings were among the reasons that Cisco has announced it was leading Goal 10 of the UK government’s Levelling Up Goals programme to help close the digital divide at a national level.

Levelling Up Goals is designed to bring businesses, universities, civil society and policymakers together to address key challenges facing the UK. It uses the same framework as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, applied to the levelling up challenges facing the UK.

It has set out an architecture for “levelling up” for the first time, and a set of measures and metrics are now being developed to benchmark performance on the agenda. In its role as a levelling up commissioner, Cisco will help to shape and deliver the business leadership of the agenda, aligned specifically to Goal 10: Closing the digital divide.

“The nation’s future growth hinges on driving an inclusive digital future for everyone,” said Meads. “Closing the digital divide will be crucial in levelling up opportunity across the UK and ensuring everyone has meaningful access to, and use of, applications and services. To do so, we must address not only access to connectivity, but issues such as levels of digital literacy and affordability and reliability of services.”

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