This week the Chancellor announced a target for full-fibre internet connectivity of 15 million premises by 2025 and full national coverage by 2033. Just a million premises currently have access to full-fibre internet.
This announcement matters as it shows the government gets the importance of full-fibre and, despite not being the ones who will physically build any networks, are willing to set a target for connectivity.
As we've set out before, digital infrastructure is a fundamental part of modern digital manufacturing. For manufacturers the issue is about more reliable internet connections which can only be delivered by shifting networks from half-fibre (a mix of fibre to cabinets and then copper to premises) to full-fibre.
We've written previously about how to get more factories connected to full-fibre internet.
The target announced this week is a good start
And it builds on the Government's previous commitment to 'fibre as the future'.
However we must learn lessons from the previous superfast broadband target (getting 95% of premises within access of download speeds of 24MBps). With this target, while over a 90% rollout of superfast broadband has been met, the premises still missing out are skewed towards businesses.
Ofcom's data shows 16% of small businesses still do not have superfast access compared to 9% of premises as a whole. Our own previous work shows the hit and miss nature for some firms:
"We have to have a very expensive leased line because broadband is so poor and unreliable in both the areas where we have factories (The Black Country). I believe there is a calculated policy by BT Openreach to retard rollout of fast broadband to industrial areas in order to maximise their income. If I had fast reliable broadband I would need less BT lines." – EEF survey respondent
What needs to be done to avoid this?
First a separate target for businesses must be set out to avoid the mistakes of the past.
But beyond this Ministers need to take charge and ensure the recently created Business Connectivity Forum delivers tangible progress on full-fibre rollout to businesses as a priority, otherwise in five years the UK may find itself the best place to watch Netflix at home, but the worst place for businesses to take advantage of the 4th industrial revolution with all the productivity benefits that it can offer.
Over the coming months we'll be setting out some of the actions government can take to develop the right framework to speed up rollout and incentivise take up.