Broadband is a fundamental plank of everything from your banking transactions to the government’s digital economy bill. If Brexit means we’re going to have increasing amounts of transactions outside the UK, the need for good communications is the original no-brainer.
So when you see a story on the BBC like the current piece on Virgin Media suspending four employees after it overstated the amount of businesses attached to superfast fibre, it may seem an isolated issue initially but it’s not. You have to take into account reports this month (like this one from the Guardian) about the fine BT suffered last week for failing to provide promised broadband services to third parties, leaving those third parties in turn unable to offer broadband to their end clients.
This might sound like one of those issues of interest only to technologists and businesspeople, but it’s actually going to affect the UK’s position in the future, and it’s coming at one of our most vulnerable points (whatever your view of Brexit, it’s a higher risk moving out than staying in – supporters will argue that the rewards are better as a result).
The government’s digital strategy, in the pipeline for a long time, is inevitably predicated on the assumption that digital access for all will happen. The idea is that 95 per cent of organisations will have high-speed connections by December, but already that is looking difficult to achieve, with as many as 30 per cent of companies having no such thing just yet according to the Independent.
Assuming this figure is right, and taking into account the other delays and non-deliveries already mentioned, you could be forgiven for asking exactly where the UK is going to get the infrastructure to ensure that the digital strategy becomes a reality.
This isn’t a crisis yet as coverage is still growing, and of course the government has just signed off on engaging with a set of vastly more complex issues than a bit of broadband coverage.
However, this is no time to appear less competitive in terms of infrastructure than, say, many of the other European countries, which in terms of attracting business are about to become competitors.