The prime minister came under fire from business and telecoms chiefs as the small print of the chancellor’s spending review revealed that planned spending on the roll-out of the technology (superfast broadband) had also been slashed from £5bn to £1.2bn.
Up to 5 million people are set to lose out as a result and critics have pointed out that high-speed broadband is needed more than ever during the coronavirus pandemic as home working becomes the norm.
Almost no-one needs high-speed broadband for home working. You need 2-5mbps for home working unless you’re doing something like downloading and working with massive data sets. Regular ADSL broadband is fine for voice conferencing, email, web etc.The main advantages of fibre are things like downloading massive games and that it’s more stable than ADSL.
But buried in this week’s spending review was a sharp drop in planned spending. The accompanying National Infrastructure Strategy confirmed the target of 100% of homes with superfast broadband by 2025 had been watered down to a “minimum of 85% coverage” by that date.
Government insiders say that the main reason for the change was feedback from some industry providers that the works on the hardest to reach 20% of homes could not be achieved within the PM’s timeframe.
This sounds about right. Not so much that Boris doesn’t want to spend the money and make a sensible decision, but that doing the last 10% is really hard. Putting down the fibre optic cables for a remote dog breeder in Wales is a lot of effort.
Some in Whitehall also claim that both the pandemic and the decision to exclude Chinese firm Huawei from future infrastructure plans have setback the scheduled works.
Ah yes, all that anti-Chinese protectionism means you don’t have the wireless alternative that probably works better in some places.
Craig Beaumont, of the Federation of Small Business, said: “Covid has shown that a good connection at home is fundamental for work and business.
“This is not good news for businesses in rural areas, nor those made redundant in the coming months who we hope will want to become self-employed and set up in business from their kitchen table.”
I doubt it matters because as I said, most people are fast enough. I work with 2 people right now in rural areas. Oxfordshire and right up in the wilds of North East Poland.
But let’s say that’s not fast enough for someone. People are going to find solutions. There’s an opportunity for pubs to fill this gap. Drive to one in a less rural bit with fast internet and work there. I think people might even like this as they get to sit with other people.
And the other thing is: Starlink. Fast satellite broadband. It’s already being tested and working and covering the 44th to 52nd parallels, which gives you roughly, south of Oxford covered. And they’re going to cover more of the world. For cabins up in Exmoor, this is a more sensible solution than laying miles of fibre optic cable.