The government in the UK has been talking up building a new high speed railway in the UK. This is to be known as HS2 (high speed 2). It’ll run between London and Birmingham and cost about £50 billion. It’s likely to cost substantially more (have a look here).
This push by the government to tell us all how wonderful HS2 is and how much difference to the UK economy it’ll make got me thinking.
Recently I’ve been working with a few companies and organisation and helping them out with their IT infrastructure – a fancy way of saying getting them new computers, wi-fi and other miscellaneous IT. As part of this work I’ve been writing bespoke applications for them: a document management system, a patient record system and so on. These applications have the potential to significantly improve the day to day work of the businesses.
However this post isn’t about the business case, the return on investment or any of those things. Instead it’s about broadband line speed. You see the thing these businesses have in common is a poor connection speed to the outside world. Generally their broadband runs at under 8mb per second. To give you some idea of how slow that is my broadband in the house runs at 80 mb per second. That’s 10 times faster!
Now your probably thinking that this means that the businesses and organistaions are located in Shetland or the far out islands. Well I’ve got shocking news for you, one of them is based in the centre of Glasgow. Yes it’s true the best broadband BT can offer business in some areas in the centre of Glasgow is 8mb! YES ONLY 8mbper second!!
So here’s my radical plan for improving business across the whole of the UK and not just London, Birmingham and a few lucky towns in between. Spend the 50billion on a UK wide broadband network. Get those rural places like Glasgow working at speeds over 30mb per second. Then work on the outlying areas. Allow the towns like Stirling, Johnstone, Paisley and others to have fast connections too. It’ll open up a new world for the small businesses working there.
Best of all building a decent UK wide infrastructure won’t take until 2026 to start delivering benefits. We could have benefits by the end of next year. More that that we won’t have to rely on business cases that are using guesswork to get to a return on investment. Instead we’ll get solid business cases with measurable results.
In case you’re wondering yes I have heard about the woeful attempt by the government to improve rural broadband. I could go into it in detail but the short version is too little money, over too long a time and not enough government focus meaning it won’t deliver anything like the needed benefits fast enough.
It’s scandalous that you can’t get at least 3G (I guess 4G is too much to hope for) coverage across all of the UK’s main roads. It’s appalling that many, many, many small businesses can’t get more than 8mb per second. This should be the focus of the government not HS2, really not HS2. Something that will full broadband coverage will improve everyone’s lives not just the few.
£50bn would cover a lot of the UK (the current government provided pot is a woeful £230million). Forget doing something for London again do something for the whole country instead, something that would improve everyones life.
Some things you could do if 80mb per second was available across the UK:
I could go on and on and on. The business case is easy and would show a big return on investment. But even if it didn’t and it was simply a cost, the social benefit of improved communication between families and their loved ones would be worth the price!