This government wants to build a Britain that is fit for the future, where everyone has an equal chance to get ahead. We fully appreciate that easy access to the many opportunities of this digital age is key. People must be able to stay connected wherever they live, work and travel. Without good connectivity, businesses suffer and citizens are excluded from applying for work, accessing essential services and simply taking part in the cut and thrust of modern life.
We call this separation, between those who can get online easily and those who struggle, the “digital divide” and we are determined to see it closed.
The UK is already well placed in terms of connectivity. We have one of the highest percentages of individual internet usage in the world, our superfast connectivity is the best in Europe and we have the biggest digital economy, by proportion, of any major nation.
None of this is by happy accident. We have been working hard to keep the UK at the forefront of developments in digital, with a business environment that is receptive to innovation, and always recognising that a world-class infrastructure is the foundation on which all our other aspirations for digital depend.
We committed in our manifesto to extend superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of last year and I am pleased to say we hit that target. More than 19 out of 20 UK homes and businesses are now able to upgrade their internet connections to superfast speeds of 24 megabits per second (mbps) or faster - that’s more than twice the speed the regulator Ofcom advises is required by a typical household.
We are pouring £1.7 billion into rolling out superfast broadband to areas the industry considers to be “not commercially viable”. So far we’ve reached more than 4.5 million UK premises, the majority in rural areas, which would otherwise have missed out. The benefits are significant. Areas covered by the superfast rollout between 2013 and 2016 have seen around 50,000 new local jobs created and an additional £8.9 billion generated in turnover.
There are challenges ahead, but we have committed to making affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband (10mbps or faster) a legal right for everyone in Britain by 2020. We aim to achieve this under a new Universal Service Obligation to make sure businesses and households get the connection they need as soon as possible.
Of course, with technology evolving all the time, there is always more to do. It is not enough to only meet today’s needs; we must anticipate and prepare for tomorrow.
As part of a £1.1-billion overall investment in digital infrastructure, we will fund a co-ordinated programme of fibre and 5G trials to ensure the UK steals an early lead in 5G technology. Our Barrier Busting Taskforce will meanwhile seek to reduce the costs of street works and liberalise planning to facilitate the rollout of full fibre. We have already, at the end of last year, reduced the costs of housing phone masts and other infrastructure on private land.
So we are in good shape and working hard to ensure we remain so – always one step ahead of future developments.