Next generation access is the key to poor web coverage

The UK’s ICT infrastructure is better than much of the rest of the continent’s, but connectivity is poorly distributed throughout the country. Whilst London and the southeast mostly enjoy fast internet access, some of the outlying regions and rural areas are still using the old telephone network’s copper cables for their infrastructure. Consequently speeds can be down to the ‘dial up’ rates of a decade or more back. next generation access involves improving these phone networks – which were never supposed to support high-bandwidth internet traffic – to fibre-optic cables which are capable of transmitting huge volumes of data very quickly. The problem is that such upgrades are pricey, and companies are not always ready to make the investment. However, this means that whole villages can be stuck with slow internet access. Given the role of the web for business, personal communication and life in general now, this is problematic. One solution is community broadband.

Community broadband is a way of bringing groups of people together and sharing connections between them. These are locally-organised programmes aimed at addressing ‘not spots’ – those areas that presently have little or no connectivity. They are often administrated by social enterprises or not-for-profit groups and are therefore cost-effective. There have already been some great success stories, with tens or hundreds of thousands of people in some towns connected to the high-speed web. This obviously comes with many benefits, not least that e-commerce now accounts for a sizeable proportion of GDP; good internet access is viewed as a prerequisite for the economic recovery which is currently elusive.

Communications technology is fast-moving. Only a few years ago it was almost unimaginable to browse the internet on a smartphone – the mobile phone revolution is itself less than 20 years old. Whilst this makes some businesses (and individuals) wary about upgrading – the new technology may soon become obsolete itself – it also means that those without next generation access are being left behind, reliant on phone cables that were never intended to handle the load that is currently demanded of them. The UK’s ICT infrastructure is patchy, and large areas – particularly remote places – have very slow access. Community broadband is a way of addressing this and bringing equality of speed to the country. This will be fundamental both to economic recovery and addressing the north/south divide in terms of web access.

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