Big cheeses from the business world have berated the government for its lack of ambition when it comes to developing broadband in the UK, saying that the Tories should be aiming "a thousand times higher" when it comes to superfast – or rather, ultrafast – speeds.
A new report from the Institute of Directors (IoD), entitled 'Ultrafast Britain', says never mind the current target of 10Mbps across the UK by 2020, the government should be aiming for no less than 10Gbps connections for businesses and homes alike by 2030.
The IoD notes that while the UK has the leading internet economy in the G20, download speeds are "mediocre" and fibre coverage is "woeful".
Dan Lewis, author of the report and Senior Advisor on Infrastructure Policy at the IoD, commented: "Now is the time to set a bold new target for genuinely world-beating broadband … 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 argues that politicians shouldn't be spending money over and over on incremental upgrades to the copper (phone line) network, but rather should be reassessing the entire broadband infrastructure, looking to future-proof it and vastly increase the number of FTTP connections in the UK (fibre piped directly to the premises, in other words, a full fibre connection all the way which offers massively increased speeds).
Steps and ladders...
10Gbps in just under 15 years is a hell of a lofty aim, though. The IoD admits it would be a "step-change" in the current philosophy and goals (more like a ladder-change, in all honesty), and the cost of such connections would be an issue (arms and legs probably wouldn't cover it – some internal organs might have to be thrown in for good measure, too).
However, the organisation also observed that just after the turn of the millennium, consumers were prepared to pay the same amount they do now for an internet connection which was over 50 times slower (0.5Mbps compared to today's UK average of 28Mbps).
The IoD also included a survey with the report, which found that unsurprisingly a vast majority (78%) of the directors questioned felt that "significantly faster broadband" would increase their firm's productivity levels.
60% believed this would make their business more competitive, and 51% said fast internet would mean they could offer more flexible working to employees (i.e. being able to work from home or on the go).
Last week, Ofcom twisted BT's arm in terms of making it easier for competitors to lay their own cables using Openreach's infrastructure, and the IoD also commented on this.
The move was called a positive step forward, but at the same time Lewis warned: "But BT Group will still be able extract value from competitors paying to use Openreach's network, so Ofcom must keep a watchful eye on the situation, and consider asking the Competition and Markets Authority to do a full market review if they don't see significant improvements."
Ofcom stopped short of recommending that Openreach should be split off entirely from BT, which would have been an even better prospect for rival service providers.