Skip Navigation

Why the vision for HS2 and not for broadband?
Tuesday 10 January 2012 13:23:15 by Andrew Ferguson

Some commentators have questioned why invest in the high speed link between Birmingham and London, with future expansion into the North of England when the money involved could have been spent on broadband infrastructure to benefit the UK.

What is more important is that the HS2 project shows that long term projects can be embarked upon, and in this case the benefit is a faster service and more capacity between two cities. Broadband offers potentially the same benefits, firms are embracing high quality video conferencing to reduce the amount oftravelingg, which is greener, cheaper and saves on travel time. Broadband has seen funding of £530m (BDUK), £20m rural broadband fund, £100m super-city fund between 2011 and 2015, just £162m per year, and is being implemented by County Councils with some guidance from a central body (BDUK). A further £300m is earmarked for spending between 2015 and 2017. Compared to the £2.2bn per year than the HS2 is expected to cost (£33bn for first phase, with first trains running in 2026), the reality of how small the funding for broadband becomes apparent.

Original estimates for fibre to the home in the UK put a 100% roll-out at £29bn, but beyond people fainting over the size of this figure, very little visible discussion was had over whether funding over a 10 to 15 year period could be undertaken. The current wave of funding is going to produce a mixture of FTTC/FTTN and wireless products with perhaps 10-15% of the UK having full fibre to the premises. Given the long lead time of large centrally funded projects, perhaps now is the time to start considering how upgrades can be financed to increase the full fibre coverage to 99.9% by 2025, with work starting in 2017.

Many people use broadband as a fourth utility, and while superfast broadband is not exactly a must have issue for most people, another few years and the situation will change, this change is likely to be subtle at first, with people and businesses re-locating to areas with the best broadband, eventually creating a 21st Century re-enactment of the massed movement of people from rural to urban areas akin to the industrial revolution.


Posted by weesteev over 5 years ago
Where does HS2 run through... Tory heartland. National FTTH would deliver service to non Tory voters potentially... and this cannot happen! A national fibre access network will always be a pipe dream, until we have a government in power that isnt living in the dark ages at least.
Posted by TavistockSFB01822 over 5 years ago
I also questioned the wisdom of spending Billions on 16 days of Olympics, including keeping the Olympic Committee and hangers on in sheer luxury. When in reality the UK lacked a proper superfast fibre broadband network.

The want and need for superfast fibre broadband is not going to disappear, Dave and chums please note, stop your quango (not a quango) shuffling papers and start delivery. BDUK (Broadband Delivery Unknown)
Posted by kingbiscit over 5 years ago
weesteev - I really don't this is a Tory issue... Labour were completely useless as well.

Completely agree with the article though.
Posted by welshwarrior over 5 years ago
Although I'm a supported of the Olympics, I have to agree that the money would be much better spent on FTTC/H. Unfortunately, this just prooves that the Government aren't really concerned if the likes of Serbia etc overtake us in the Broadband stakes!
Posted by Somerset over 5 years ago
'this just prooves that the Government aren't really concerned if the likes of Serbia etc overtake us in the Broadband stakes!'

But if Serbia overtook us in the 100m...
Posted by keith969 over 5 years ago
Unfortunately your average MP muppet probably doesn't use a computer and is not interested in championing technology. They would far rather spend other peoples money on white elephants like the Dome, the Olympics and HS2 (and no-one apart from MP's will be able to afford the train fares for that)
Posted by mervl over 5 years ago
Why the vision for HS2 and not broadband? You can see HS2 (and even the Olympics), but not broadband. Humans are like that.
Posted by Saurus over 5 years ago
What MP's serving their communities first? Forget it, it it isnt going to happen! Politics is purely about the acquisition of power, if doing something for the electorate happens to fit in with that then we might get it but only on their terms(the political parties) Unfortunately, that is simply the nature of the beast, as the Lib Dems proved with their broken electoral promises!
Posted by bobdelamare over 5 years ago
I have been thinking exactly the same thoughts as expressed in this article. For most of us the hassle of getting to the local station, parking and paying, then to London, across to Euston, far outweighs the saving of 20 mintutes Euston to Brum. I would just drive it. Mind you if I had decent broadband I could Skype and save the trip.
Posted by NilSatisOptimum over 5 years ago
What must Doctor Beeching be thinking now! Something like “Great my legacy continues, vested interest always wins.”
Posted by Firefalcon over 5 years ago
HS2 is a waste, not because it goes through someones garden or because of its cost but because of the sheer time scale of it actually being usable. Its miles off and by the time they look at extended it to the rest of the north it will probably be billions over budget, the trains wont be going as fast as they should due to health and safety/misreported specs/etc, tickets will cost a small fortune and a new government saying its a waste of time and cash and they'll pull the plug, internet or existing infrastructure upgrades would be much better
Posted by fibrebunny over 5 years ago
Conservatives do not want HS2 running through their constituencies for what should be rather obvious reasons. Video conferencing is nothing new and yet still people travel. Which is probably just as well as who else but those on expenses would pay for tickets.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
While video conferencing is not new, the quality is improving such that it is much more acceptable to use now.

The cost and time of international travel means it is more common there, but do believe it has the potential to help some people to avoid travelling so much.
Posted by darren_mccoy over 5 years ago
HS2 is a matter of national pride, we invented railways but look like we're still in the dark ages compared to the equivelent parts of Europe. France have thousands of Km of high speed track. I'm actually really proud they had the guts to do this. There is no chance a private firm was going to finance a project like this. If they could just the fares below the airlines (Impossible) It would be amazing.
Posted by AndrueC over 5 years ago
A lot of the defenders say it's needed to improve capacity. The question few people seem to be asking is /why/ are so many people still having to travel long distances?

And yes, it should be compared to broadband. I see them as potential competitors. Telecommuting and teleconferencing ought to have eliminated a lot of travelling by now.

What's gone wrong?
Posted by dustofnations over 5 years ago
@AndrueC - Agreed, companies should get a tax break for having WFH employees, as a proportion of the number of days they WFH. Reduces transport pollution, frees up capacity and wear on public infrastructure.

We do have a significant issue with infrastructure and housing in this country, partly down to population growth (possibly unsustainable/undesirable?), but this seems to be a project with such a specific usage demographic that it smacks of elitism.

I do wonder if it is a vanity project. Surely there are other infra projects this could be better spent on.
Posted by timmay over 5 years ago
we need both broadband and hs2, end of. No one or the other! What's the point of building hs1 if it never gets extended?! What's the point of getting connected if you never get better connected. We can't keep standing still while China and India play catch up and over take us.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
@timmay sort of was my point, if investment for one at this level can be found, then why not do similar long term, rather than just term of government stuff for broadband.
Posted by fibrebunny over 5 years ago
HS2 funding should be viewed in the context of rising fares and reduced subsidies. I don't think BT or Virgin have been laying much in the way of rail track of late. Though Virgin have increased speeds and BT are investing in increased FTTC coverage. Our other utilities also make use of private investment. I can't really see there being much support for a similar model with a surcharge on phonebills. Would we have one company investing in and owning the entire network or would it be split in some way?
Posted by pinshot over 5 years ago
The answer to this is simple. The government does not want to significantly increase the amount of data travelling through UK networks in the near future as it will not have the ability to monitor that data effectively. Every email, file or comment on the web is monitored for potential terrorist activity and for profiling.more traffic make its more difficult. Web they are ready they will encourage it and not a moment before. This is England, control is paramount.
Posted by camieabz over 5 years ago
@ Andrew

I see the PM's father in law is not amused at the HS2 plan:

"He said the need for the £32.7 billion scheme could be bypassed by modern communications.

"There is a perfectly viable alternative, which... would be much cheaper and faster to take effect, without destroying a whole swath of countryside, ruining the lives of thousands," he wrote."
Posted by camieabz over 5 years ago

"Have they not heard of Skype and the internet?"

He urged that Ms Greening should "compare HS2 with cheaper options and look at how those savings could be spent on other transport needs".""
Posted by bobdelamare over 5 years ago
Darren Mccoy has a point but fails to realise that France has twice the land mass of the UK but about the same population, ie more space to run track and more need to run track. Germany is about half as big again as UK.
BT controls the infrastructure but has no incentive to upgrade the service for O2 and others to exploit, therefore the government must do it. Railtrack controls the hardware and rents it to the Train Operators. It has no passenger business to protect. If it is profitable let it raise the cash from investors. It won't 'cos it ain't
Posted by fibrebunny over 5 years ago
Was there not a report done that dismissed those cheaper options and alternatives as unviable. Largely as they did not address capacity issues. You can already skype and there is still a perceived value in face to face meetings. Which is not exclusive to business.
Posted by Bob_s2 over 5 years ago
HS2 makes no real sense. The time saving is minor & it is rubbish to say the existing lines cannot incrreasec capacity. The Chiltern line from Birmingham is very under utilized

The cost is likely to more than double probably three times if you factor in inflation.The line will never make a profit. No line in the UK does.

Maybe we should lookat a 30 hour 3 day week so that half of a companies employees work monday to Wednesday & the other half Thursday to Saturday. You pretty much cut commuter traffic by 50% half the need for Office space etc
Posted by chrysalis over 5 years ago
To me HS2 is baffling use of money. Modern business can save time most efficiently by using video conferencing so not travelling at all, 32billion could have been used to FTTP the entire country and benefit everyone, instead of just 2 to 4 cities, primarily london.
Posted by Somerset over 5 years ago
What infrastructure will BT not upgrade for O2?
Posted by yappy over 5 years ago
HS2 is about progression and actually doing something about the crippling congestion we a have, freeing up rail track so that more freight can be moved off of the motorway, initially the creation of much needed jobs and developing our industries and the commercial development the spin off's from this project.
Posted by yappy over 5 years ago
There is no comparison to the campaign for fast BB I am sure that they will not install all the necessary cabling for this project without taking the advantage to fibre-optic at the same time. I could understand the argument if it was possible to send a freight train by super-fast broad band...but I think that this is a few years off yet?
Posted by chrysalis over 5 years ago
yappy what congestion? the HS trains will be empty used by a few business men. Progression is a nationwide fibre to the premises network that will promote homeworking, get people of sickness benefits and benefit the entire population. HS investment is 10 years too late and now superseded by video conferencing.
Posted by Bob_s2 over 5 years ago
@Posted by yappy 1 day ago
HS2 is about progression and actually doing something about the crippling congestion we a have, freeing up rail track so that more freight can be moved off of the motorway.

HS2 does nothing to address those issues. There in general are no capacity issues with Freight, In fact rail carries very little freight and is unlikely to do so as the UK is far to small. Rail is only suitable for bulk traffic of which there is close to zero or are you sugesting that every supermarket as a railhead?

Posted by lillybry over 5 years ago
In 1948 I bought a farm which will be destroyed by HS2 running straight through the middle. As this is in a rural area I struggle to get 2.5mbps. Am I considered worth a passing thought? All replies on the back of a postage stamp!
Posted by MJSUSER over 5 years ago
HS2 will cost 33bn but that is for the whole project. London to Birmingham is projected to cost about 17bn.

In reality we can expect the 33bn to double as with all government projects.

It is going to be a very exclusive expensive service for the few funded by the majority.

It won't address the important transport issues of the day.

It is in my opinion a colossal hugely damaging mistake. And I am really not sure if we can cope with any more mistakes.

It is not too late. Protest write to your MP.
Posted by pdthomas1952 over 5 years ago
I guess it's all about prestige.

The benefit of high speed broadbend is bound to benefit more people than any high speed rail link. The business case for the lunacy of HS2 has not been made.

I would look to see which of the people who had influence in this decision have connections to any of the companies who will benefit from our largesse as tax payers. Anything involving politicians is bound to be mired in sleaze and cronyism. It will certainly take years to get through the enquiry process and the inevitable cost over runs will in the end be funded by us, the taxpayer.
You must be logged in to post comments. Click here to login.