Why the vision for HS2 and not for broadband?
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.