The UK is in the middle of the annual round of booze ups known as the autumn Party Conference Season. High in the mindset of our political leaders will be the UK’s internet economy particularly as we await the next Communications Bill Green Paper. Stakeholders at the conference socials are I’m sure already lobbying, positioning and generally trying to get their message across.
The Eds and Daves of this world whilst being wooed by corporates with vested interests would do well to focus on basics that very much include decent and ubiquitous internet connectivity for the whole of the UK.
We are already seeing cracks in the government’s resolve to have “the best superfast broadband network in Europe by the end of this parliament” (2015). Actually it isn’t fair to call them “cracks in the resolve”. The resolve is there but the execution isn’t and anyone who thinks that we would get anywhere near this goal without a radical change in the UK’s approach to internet connectivity is kidding themselves.
The only way we are going to achieve this is if UK plc, ie the taxpayer, invests in a full fibre infrastructure for “the final third”. This is not to say give money to BT. The only sensible approach is for there to be a nationally owned infrastructure company that puts down the physical layer and sells to wholesalers in the same way that Openreach sells to BT Wholesale and other large network operators today.
This might mean no competition in rural areas. There is however competition in more densely populated parts of the country and we could use pricing in these areas as a guideline for what should be charged in rural areas. It is unlikely that UKNetCo, as I am going to call it, would ever make a profit using normal return on investment criteria. However if we take depreciation and interest on borrowings out of the equation it might break even.
Even if UKNetCo represents a net operating cost to the UK its success should be measured in terms of growth in GDP of the rural economy and potentially in the UK as a whole.
I realise that this is going to be a difficult concept for some to accept. I already hear “but we have no money” and “the global economy is teetering on the brink of meltdown”. Now is the time to invest. We can always find the money from somewhere. Whilst I occasionally write a post (here here here) about entrepreneurs in parts of the country rolling out 1Gig connections to remote communities these are few and far between and not going to have a fast enough impact on the UK as a whole.
I periodically hear noises coming from other sectors such as the transport industry calling for investment in high speed rail infrastructure. Well the internet economy is going to be far more important to the UK and UKNetCo should be at the top of the list for job creation and growth whatever the colour of your party conference tie/rosette/kiss me quick hat. UKplc cannot wait.