The UK broadband picture is not all the doom and gloom that you would think based on some headlines and the constant rate at which bad news headlines appear might be doing as much damage to the economy as there would be if there was no investment in better broadband beyond the commercial coverage figures.
Cornwall was ahead of the curve with the original ADSL based roll-outs and with its Superfast Cornwall project it is once more ahead of the curve. The rate of progress is such that since June 2013 the coverage has increased from 75% to 82% of premises, which given the rural nature of Cornwall is a major achievement. More impressive is that the project promised a higher proportion of FTTP and it is delivering, with 54,000 premises passed by a FTTP solution and importantly due to the way the wholesale pricing works, this costs the same to install along with the same monthly fees. The eventual goal is to push fibre based broadband to 95% of premises in Cornwall by the end of 2014 and based on what Liv Garfield and Bill Murphy said today in a briefing they are ahead of schedule on this, and also ahead of where the many BDUK project time lines say they should be.
The main interest today in a briefing at BT headquarters in London was to reveal some independent research by SERIO at Plymouth University and Buckman Associates. The research looked into whether business in Cornwall was seeing any benefit from the fibre roll-out , the research looked at 88 businesses based on random sampling and six out of ten reported that their business was growing because of the improvements brought about by the investment in Cornwall. This is not just a cosy feeling type analysis as the research looked at how many jobs had be created, or retained in the economy and a crucial aspect the UK as a whole was that export business grew by 24%, meaning that the benefits are not simply from businesses migrating from Devon and Somerset but the ability to do business on a world stage improve.
In the short presentations by several of the case study businesses it was not so much the raw download speed that was the key factor for businesses but the reliability of the fibre based connection and in particular with improved upload speeds there is less need to send plans and other media via couriers and as the fibre based coverage is so extensive the ability to work from home is greatly improved. While Openreach is criticised for its cabinet based roll-out even though businesses getting slow speeds due to distance from the cabinet are benefiting enormously when their speed is boosted from 0.5 Mbps to 15 Mbps.
The report is a mid-term evaluation, so it will be interesting to see how things develop as the coverage increases further and hopefully as more case studies are carried out it may be possible to evaluate whether FTTP for business use offers a visible benefit to the firms and the overall economy - hard proof that FTTP boosts the economy significantly more than a FTTC based roll-out would be a very strong political tool to ensure a solid long term plan was put in place for the UK.
The key now across the UK is for the various BDUK projects to be seen to start delivering and councils making sure that business and consumers are aware of the activity so that the benefits can be achieved. A final remark, we know people will say that 82% and 95% coverage is not good enough, but how many European cities can truly claim that level of coverage, let alone areas the size of Cornwall.