Why a full-fibre network across the UK is so vital12 January 2021
Digital connectivity is a key element of economic reshaping plans for York & North Yorkshire. Kim Johnston, city manager for CityFibre – the UK’s third national digital infrastructure platform – reflects on the impact improved infrastructure could have on the area.
As the past year has shown us, connectivity is key for how we go about our daily lives.
The sudden shift to home working for many of us in 2020, and the return to national lockdown this month, has really brought to the fore the importance of having a full fibre network across the UK. The reality is that, up to now, the UK has been lagging behind in terms in broadband infrastructure. In 2019, the UK was 34th in the global ranking of broadband performance. There are a number of reasons for that, but one school of thought is that we’re almost paying the price for being early adopters of broadband – we’ve become used to a certain level of connectivity, so that is how it has stayed.
However, things are changing, and there is a growing recognition for the role reliable full fibre broadband access could play in enabling both households and businesses. Billions of pounds of investment is being put into rolling out full fibre infrastructure across the UK, which will revolutionise how we all use the internet. Having full fibre gives you piece of mind – you know you can go to work and get the business done that you need, as well as having online access for life outside of work.
I’m pleased to see improved digital connectivity being such a key part of the ‘Greener, Fairer, Stronger’ strategy for reshaping the economy in York & North Yorkshire. This is work which the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership and local authorities have worked together on. It’s also great to see it as one of the recommendations in the LEP’s ‘21st Century Towns’ report for the area, and being a key element in investment decisions led by the LEP. It is right to attach importance here because the impact of better connectivity is huge, particularly in a large rural area such as York & North Yorkshire.
What are the benefits of improved connectivity? Businesses will start to use the internet in a different way, and be able to reliably download and upload data. Research commissioned by CityFibre has looked at how improved connectivity could help 100 UK cities over 15 years, and it points to £2.3bn in growth resulting from new business start-ups, £2.3bn in innovation benefits and £2.2bn in productivity stimulus.
There are social and environmental impacts too. Larger social housing landlords, for instance, can start to look at the internet of things to ensure housing stock is being heated at the correct level, check sensors for damp, seeing if lights are on when they shouldn’t be and helping tenants achieve energy savings. That is helping to lower costs and support the sustainability agenda.
There is still a social divide between people who have access to internet and those who do not. There is still plenty of work to be done here but the discussion has certainly been pushed forward by the events of 2020. There is a growing momentum to level the playing field for everyone. Digital inclusivity needs to be a priority of policy makers from here on in.
With digital connectivity high on the agenda, I would like to see this used to influence house builders to ensure that full fibre is a pre-requisite. In this region, and around the UK, you currently have a case of new properties going up where connections are inadequate. A home of the future should have gigabit connectivity. There should also be an open network, with multiple internet service providers on one fibre. That brings consumer choice and competition in price.
These are exciting times though. As a company, CityFibre is futureproofing digital connectivity for generations to come. We’ve put forward £4bn investment and have a requirement of 10,000 people to help support that build. So, we have jobs and reliable broadband to bring forward, which can then be utilised by the various internet service providers to help businesses and residents.
In these unusual times, connectivity is vital for all of us. A greener, fairer, stronger economy is a sound aspiration for York and North Yorkshire, and an improved broadband infrastructure can play a big part in helping us get there.
This article originally appeared in the Yorkshire Post.