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Good broadband is a necessity: We must improve access to level-up society

Good broadband is a necessity: We must improve access to level-up society

Previously we have seen office jobs drawing thousands to the cities, now home working has brought into question the necessity of moving to the city for work. | Credit: PA Images

4 min read

Broadband has not always been seen as vital infrastructure, but if lockdown has taught us anything, it must be that it is, and that we must ensure everyone has access.

Good connectivity opens many opportunities. One of the main themes of contemporary politics is geographic disparity, and the rise of home working over the course of the pandemic has the potential to level some of those inequalities.

Previously we have seen office jobs drawing thousands to the cities, now home working has brought into question the necessity of moving to the city for work.

If we are to give people that option, we need the necessary infrastructure. 

A digital transformation of this kind would lead to higher wages across the country as well as greater job satisfaction, shorter commutes and the opportunity for  better work life balance.

Broadband is the infrastructure of the future and the present, and we need to facilitate the commercial entities desperate to unleash full fibre to help our economy recover from Covid-19.

But we also need good broadband for basic services. Universal Credit is designed for the internet age, and it is imperative that the process of claiming is as easy as possible for the most vulnerable.

This is true for Universal Credit but also for services provided by local councils, whether for housing, refuse services or planning. 

This change in how people interact with the welfare state and local democracy should make us recognise that broadband is a necessity but also increasingly a precondition of democratic participation and citizenship.

The Government has recognised this through initiatives such as the Universal Service Obligation but for some living in the most rural areas of the UK, we need to go further.

It is important to recognise at this point that not everybody living in the middle of the countryside is living the rural idyll; some of the most vulnerable people needing the most support, are cut off from other communities by poor connectivity.

Given that the purpose of this article is to discuss ‘inclusive capitalism’, it is worth mentioning how broadband being a right does not axiomatically mean that the state should provide it for free.

The 2019 Labour Manifesto was misguided in this respect and whilst I sympathise with the motivation, the state does not routinely provide other necessities which we regard as rights such as food or water.

The private sector remains the best way to deliver improved connectivity and the best way to empower consumers and drive down costs is through choice and competition.

The history of state utility providers is not a happy one, and it is often burdensome regulation which impedes the effective operation of the private sector.

Up until now, we have seen public libraries and schools as the obvious way to ensure that the most vulnerable can still access the internet.

There is no doubt that they will continue to play an important role but if we are to really see a step change in the way people are connected, there is no substitute for internet access at home.

Whilst the market is generally the best provider, it cannot do everything, and we must empower rural communities to help themselves and for the state to fill the gaps.

Community partnerships are still long, drawn-out processes where land access and planning issues delay the installation of vital infrastructure.

This process must be made simpler if we are to see the full potential of the £5 billion which the Government have committed to broadband rollout.

The real test of whether rollout is successful is how quickly we can connect the hardest to reach 10% of properties and facilitate commercial development. If we do that quickly, we can work greener and build back better.

Lockdown has shown how much of our daily lives can be carried out from home and whilst none of us want to be confined to our homes for eternity, we can have a better balance than we had before the pandemic, but so much depends on a good broadband connection. 

Broadband is the infrastructure of the future and the present, and we need to facilitate the commercial entities desperate to unleash full fibre to help our economy recover from Covid-19.

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