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Karen Bradley: Britain’s digital economy can be the envy of the world

“Making Britain’s digital economy the envy of the world means having digital connectivity to match,” writes Karen Bradley

For the past four years, something remarkable has been happening the length and breadth of the UK. From the Highlands and Islands to Devon and Somerset, Northern Ireland to Norfolk, engineers have been installing superfast broadband connections at breakneck pace. Working on a flagship ?1.7bn government project, they have provided more than 4.1 million homes and business with access to the quick and reliable internet connections which are becoming a vital part of modern life.

That is almost 3,000 a day – equivalent to connecting a town the size of Hartlepool every month. These are homes and businesses which would have otherwise been left behind by commercial providers because they are in hard-to-reach, often rural, areas. The Broadband Delivery UK programme means that around 91 per cent of the country – 26 million premises – can now access superfast broadband. That is on track to reach 97 per cent by 2020 as another two million homes and businesses get connections.

But installing connections is only the first stage, because they are of no benefit if they are sitting in the ground unused. While more than nine out of 10 households can access superfast broadband, only three in 10 have actually taken it up. The lesson I take from this is clear: both government and industry have been good at putting the right technology in the ground, but less at good at letting people know it’s there and how to use it.

Our rollout programme doesn’t automatically boost broadband speeds – it needs people to sign up if they want to. So the next stage is to make sure families and firms are aware of the superfast broadband they can get, and help them find the right deal for them. As more and more of daily life is conducted online, the benefits are clear. Superfast speeds allow families to watch TV on multiple devices at the same time, or let kids do homework while parents do online banking and shopping.

The technology is ideal for most businesses too, allowing bosses to run websites and buy and sell online, and is expected to carry on meeting these needs for years to come. MPs can play big role by pointing constituents towards information on availability and how to take advantage, and we have set up a broadband checker website, www.gov.uk/gosuperfast1, to help. We are also looking at other ways to boost take-up, which is a win-win-win: consumers get a better service, it encourages providers to invest, and when more people sign up in BDUK areas, money is clawed back to pay for new connections.

But I also understand that many families and businesses, often in rural areas, do not have the internet they want – and the government is working hard to put that right. As part of our commitment to build a country that works for everyone, the Digital Economy Bill will introduce a new legal right to request fast, affordable broadband wherever people live and work. This “universal service obligation” means that by 2020 everyone will be able to get a connection of at least 10Mbps – around half the speed of superfast, but still quick enough to download a half-hour TV show in two minutes.

It will put broadband on the same footing as other basic services like water and phone lines, because we know accessing the internet is not a luxury in the 21st century. We are also boosting business broadband – addressing a key gap in our current rollout to help firms get the reliable, high-capacity connectivity they need. And because technology does not stand still, neither are we.

In the Autumn Statement we announced more than ?1bn to support digital infrastructure, aimed at kick-starting the installation of lightning-fast fibre broadband to millions more homes and businesses across the country. We are also funding a series of ground-breaking trials to make sure the UK is a world-leader in exciting new 5G mobile networks. All of this means the country will be fit to exploit major advances which are fast-approaching – like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and devices connected to the Internet of Things.

We know that making Britain’s digital economy the envy of the world means having digital connectivity to match.

We will deliver that world-class connectivity.

Karen Bradley is Conservative MP for Staffordshire Moorlands and the Culture Secretary

References

  1. ^ www.gov.uk/gosuperfast (www.gov.uk)

Stop broadband companies advertising speeds they can’t deliver, says Which?

With up to speed claims being used more than ever in broadband adverts, an urgent change is needed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to end the confusion it’s causing consumers. With more and more of us streaming and downloading films and music – as well as working from home – the expectations we have for our broadband are increasing, along with our needs. Yet when you’re looking around for a broadband provider that can give you a faster speed, it could leave you disappointed. Many adverts use speed claims to try and persuade us to sign up to their offer. Yet, the reality is that often the broadband speeds offered can often only be accessed by a relatively small minority.

This is because back in 2012, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), introduced rules stating that only 10% of all customers have to be able to access the maximum advertised speed. New research we conducted shows that up to speed claims in broadband newspaper adverts are rife. Before the rules came in, only around one in ten (12%) adverts included an up to speed claim, but this rocketed to two thirds (68%) between April 2015 and March 2016. It s now time to do away with the confusing 10% rule. The ASA recognises that there’s an issue and just last week announced a new research project to test consumers understanding and expectations of advertised claims.

The findings will be announced in the autumn and should help CAP to determine whether there needs to be a change. There’s no doubt in our mind that this research must lead to new rules where the majority of customers can get the speed advertised. And many in the broadband industry agree. Some companies would like to be much more upfront about the realistic speeds their customers can get. Sadly with the current rules they run the risk of falling behind their competitors if they don t promote faster up to speeds.

This further underlines why a change is needed: clearer advertising rules would help broadband providers to help customers to avoid disappointment and make a much better choice. We know from previous research that 9 in 10 people consider speed an important factor when choosing a broadband provider and a staggering 15.4 million households were not getting the advertised headline speeds on their broadband packages. This is a serious problem facing this industry and one that must be addressed soon.

We have support from the Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS), as well as Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey, who pledged his backing last week by saying that advertised broadband speeds are misleading and it s not right that only a minority can access the highest speeds on the market. So we look forward to seeing the findings from the ASA’s research project and call on the regulator to revisit its advertising rules to ensure that companies can only advertise up to speeds that are available to the majority of their customers, not just 10%. We want to see a swift move to new rules that ensure people get the broadband speeds they deserve.