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Ultrafast Britain

01 Mar 2016
Animated interpretation of cyber space

The UK has some of the slowest, least reliable broadband speeds in the developed world. Our digital economy has grown in spite of our infrastructure, not because of it.

There are times in economic history when making the right decision has long and lasting repercussions for an entire nation. Getting the information revolution right is one of those seminal decisions. The good news is that Britain leads the way in embracing the digital revolution.

Some 12.4% of our GDP in 2016 is expected to come from the internet economy, more than double our closest competitor in the G20 - South Korea, which sits at 8%.1 California may have the mecca for start-ups in the shape of Silicon Valley, but the internet is set to account for only 5.4% of the US economy this year. Equally impressive, some 23% of all transactions this year are expected to take place online, streets ahead of our nearest competitor.

The entrepreneurial revolution is not limited to digital products, of course, but for start-ups and larger firms alike the internet can represent a fast, easy and cheap route to existing and new markets. With the world’s most advanced internet economy permeating every area of British life, it provides opportunities even for non-digital firms to start, operate and flourish. The fashionable firms may be in financial technology in east London, but even crofters need to fill in online tax returns. The infrastructure that surrounds the digital economy – broadband and mobile internet – is now the fourth utility. Its importance cannot be overstated.

Yet Britain lives a paradox. It has some of the worst broadband speeds in the developed world, some of the least reliable broadband in rural and urban areas alike, and patchy mobile coverage. Our digital economy has grown in spite of, not because of, our digital infrastructure. Our digital infrastructure therefore needs improvement now, but that is not enough. We must attempt to future-proof it for increased demand.

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