THE BLOG
06/02/2015 06:48 GMT | Updated 07/04/2015 06:59 BST

Why Super-Fast Broadband Matters

I seem to find it impossible to turn on the TV at the moment without seeing an advert for super-fast broadband. The move to a faster Internet has been a priority for successive UK Government's, as well as other countries around the world. So, why is so much effort - and money - being invested in this infrastructure?

I seem to find it impossible to turn on the TV at the moment without seeing an advert for super-fast broadband. The move to a faster Internet has been a priority for successive UK Government's, as well as other countries around the world.

So, why is so much effort - and money - being invested in this infrastructure?

The Economic Case

At a time of on-going financial uncertainty, super-fast broadband has been seen as a key instrument in helping to drive long-term economic growth.

Research in 2010 by Ericsson and Arthur D. Little concluded that for every 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration GDP increases by 1 per cent, A subsequent 2011 follow-up study separately determined that doubling broadband speed increased a country's GDP by 0.3 per cent.

Meanwhile analysis related to the "trickle down" effect of increased broadband speeds on household income suggests that an upgrade from 4 to 8 Mbps increases income by $120 per month in OECD countries. Even a smaller increase from 0.5-4 Mbps is believed to give households in Brazil, India and China a $46 per month increase. These sorts of sums are not to be sneezed at.

Untapped economic benefits can also be found in more advanced Internet economies like the UK.

A 2009 study from PwC argued the economic benefit of getting everyone in the UK online was in excess of £22 billion; with the authors stating that: "People with good ICT skills earn between 3% and 10% more than people without such skills." And that: "Households offline are missing out on savings of £560 per year from shopping and paying bills online."

The report also suggested that the UK Government could save a minimum of £900m a year if all digitally excluded adults went online to make just one electronic contact per month. Such potential savings remain very handy at a time of continued austerity.

Given these figures it is not surprising that most countries have put in place plans to stimulate investment in broadband networks, alongside ongoing efforts - such as the UK's latest Digital Inclusion Strategy - to get as many people online as possible; reducing digital divides in the process.

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Source: Gov.uk Digital Inclusion blog

Wider Benefits

When this technology was first being discussed, much of the focus was on the benefits for entertainment consumers. Faster downloads, online multi-player gaming and high quality video streaming were all frequently cited as potential benefits to the detriment of wider societal impacts.

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Example entertainment benefits cited by Which?

A consultation by Ofcom in 2006 reflected that earlier mind-set when it said "the majority of the applications and services generally proposed for next-generation access are entertainment services that may result in limited incremental social benefit".

The independent Communications Consumer Panel, echoed this when it argued that "so far, there is limited evidence of significant social welfare being derived from next-generation access networks or services".

Fortunately, over time, this debate has moved forward.

At a time when people are continuing to feel the credit crunch and trying to reduce their carbon footprints, super-fast access can facilitate more home working and improve video conferencing with colleagues. By reducing travel costs, flexible working can become a reality for more people.

Potential beneficiaries include many groups who are often economically inactive due to circumstance (and perhaps the inflexibility of some employers), such as people with care responsibilities, older workers and people with disabilities.

Additional benefits include: remote health monitoring and consultations, mentoring and befriending schemes, home and community security initiatives, life-long learning programmes and much more.

Moving Forward

"The debate is not about that endgame. It is about how to get there."

Blair Levin, The Aspen Institute

As consumers get used to faster connections at home, so they will expect similar levels of service when on the move too. In the age of mobility, seamless connectivity and ubiquitous speeds will become an everyday consumer reality, alongside an increased blurring between when, where and how people work, consume media or interact with healthcare, education, retail and public service providers.

That's why continued investment in mobile networks is so important. Indeed for many (especially rural) UK consumers, their mobile connections may already be faster and more reliable than their fixed counterparts.

This is trend is global according to the Broadband Commission, who recently noted that "by 2016, over 80% of broadband is expected to be mobile and many people's first and only access to the Internet will be via a mobile device."

Such characteristics are not just unique to the developing world; they are manifest in the growth of mobile only households in the UK too. Globally mobile broadband already surpasses fixed line broadband at a ratio of almost 3:1.

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Combined, super-fast broadband connections - be they fixed or mobile - are already delivering social and economic benefits.

And this is a trend which looks set to continue as connections get faster and faster.

From Ofcom's 5G consultation through to BT's recent announcement of plans "to transform the UK broadband landscape from superfast to ultrafast" - with 500Mbps to most homes and premium fibre services of up to 1Gbps - the direction of travel is clear.

Where we're going we don't need roads, but we're going to need broadband.

So buckle up and get ready for the ride. This journey has only just begun.