IoD: UK should aim for 1,000x faster broadband speeds

fibre_broadbandThe UK government has a “poverty of ambition” when it comes to national broadband speeds and should aim for speeds 1,000 times faster than current targets, according to business leaders.

A new report by the Institute of Directors (IoD) calls for a new target that would give households and businesses access to speeds of 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) by 2030 – a dramatic increase on the current official aim of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) by 2020.

The Ultrafast Britain report, which comes less than a week after UK broadcast regulator Ofcom published its review of the digital communications market, claims that Britain lags behind “many European nations when it came to installing the fibre optic cables that allow for the fastest broadband connections”.

Of the directors surveyed, 78% told the IoD that significantly faster broadband speeds would increase company productivity, 60% thought it would make their business more competitive, and 51% said that faster broadband would let them offer more flexible working arrangements to their staff.

“Now is the time to set a bold new target for genuinely world-beating broadband. We have the leading internet economy in the G20, and yet download speeds are mediocre and the coverage of fibre optic cable is woeful,” said report author and senior advisor on infrastructure policy at the IoD, Dan Lewis.

“The demand for data is growing exceptionally fast, and with virtual reality and the Internet of Things just around the corner, about to grow even faster. But our network is behind the curve. Unfortunately, the government’s current target displays a distinct poverty of ambition.”

Lewis said it expects the government to meet its 10 Mbps web speed target by 2020, but only because it has set itself “such a low bar”.

“Instead of spending money two or three times over on incremental upgrades to the historic copper network, politicians need to look ahead at how we are going to provide the physical infrastructure needed to maintain Britain’s position at the forefront of digital innovation in business,” he added.

Ofcom last week said that BT must open up its Openreach infrastructure arm to competitors, conceding that it necessary to overhaul Openreach’s governance and strengthen its independence from BT. However, it did not order BT and Openreach to separate – a move called for by other UK operators such as Sky.

Ofcom said that Openreach should take its own decisions on budget, investment and strategy, in consultation with the wider industry, and must also open up its network of telegraph poles and underground tunnels to allow rivals to build their own advanced fibre networks, connected directly to homes and office.

The IoD report said that directors were more likely to think BT’s ownership of Openreach has been negative, rather than positive, for the quality of UK broadband. It added that only about a third of IoD members who have had interaction with Openreach, for instillation or repairs, were happy with the service they had received.

The IoD is an independent association of business leaders that aims to make sure their views are taken into account when the government is reviewing policy, legislation or seeking the views of the wider business community.