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Download speed not biggest broadband concern, say manufacturers

Manufacturing association EEF warns the government that focusing too much on broadband speed is distracting policy-makers from other issues

Manufacturers’ organisation the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) has said Westminster policy-makers are being so distracted by the headline debate over average broadband speeds that they risk neglecting other important issues affecting service quality.

The association set out its concerns in its official response to the government’s ongoing review of business broadband, which recently closed.

It said its members’ primary concern was not whether or not broadband connectivity offered super- or ultrafast speeds, but that their digital infrastructure was cost-effective, reliable, resilient and future proofed.

This is not to say that broadband speed is not a concern for manufacturers, noted the EEF – which recently conducted research establishing that 91% of its members said high-speed connections were as important to their businesses as any other utility – but that broadband quality could, in some cases, be better determined by other metrics.

“Britain has clearly benefitted from the move to faster broadband, which has transformed our economy. But there’s still much more to be done,” said Chris Richards, senior business environment policy advisor at the EEF.

“The legacy of focusing on speed has served its purpose and it’s now time to do a stocktake on what we need going forward. For manufacturers this is clear – we need a more reliable, resilient and future-proofed network to match the fundamental importance digital infrastructure plays in our modern economy.”

The EEF said future-proofing the network was particularly important because it was on the cusp of the so-called fourth industrial revolution – centred largely on the internet of things (IoT) – which will see more integration of physical production with internet-enabled technology.

By its own reckoning, 80% of EEF members said the fourth industrial revolution will be a reality by 2025, and 62% anticipated investing in internet-connected equipment between now and 2021.

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Its analysis showed that leased lines were still likely the best choice to meet the needs of manufacturers, highlighting that factors to do with reliability and resilience were important to its members.

It said 35% of manufacturers had invested in dedicated leased lines, which consequently pushed them down the queue to receive superfast upgrades to their premises from Openreach.

The EEF called on the government to follow up the business broadband review with a comprehensive framework to address broadband reliability

“The UK needs a strategy to improve the reliability of our digital infrastructure through a more pervasive fibre broadband roll-out. We also need confidence that the government will stand behind that strategy to make sure it’s delivered,” said Richards.

“The reality is that if we don’t do this now, in five years’ time we won’t be arguing about where we are in the international league tables – we won’t even be in them.”

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