The release last week of the seat by seat breakdown of superfast broadband connectivity underlined the extent of the problem we face in central London. With a coverage level of just 31% my constituency has by far the lowest superfast broadband connectivity in the whole of the UK.
It will come as a surprise to many that in central London of all places that there should be any problem with superfast broadband. The perception is that this is an issue only for the rural parts of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately the EU Commission are preventing government from subsidising the rollout of superfast broadband in inner cities. Perversely this means many remote villages have better broadband connections than are available in my constituency which contains the political, business, cultural and technological heart of the country.
This clearly reflects a failure in how the market currently operates. Locally the approach of BT seems to be based on a belief that there is insufficient demand to invest further. That means that large swathes of urban areas with important SME users are poorly served and restricted to woefully outdated copper broadband. As I understand it, BT have the mapping on precisely where the gaps in superfast broadband exist. If this were made available to the market it would surely help to provide a commercial solution to the problem by allowing other providers to assiduously target the known blackspots.
Superfast broadband is estimated to deliver returns of up to £20 for each £1 invested, which represents tremendous value for money. As a consequence, there would be a huge economic opportunity cost of not having superfast broadband comprehensively available in the heart of central London which has highest concentration of businesses in the UK. Even just beyond the borders of my constituency, in Shoreditch’s Tech City itself countless businesses, large and small, require superfast broadband as much as they require electricity or water. The Square Mile alone hosts some 13,500 small and medium-sized enterprises and more than 98% of the UK’s visual effects firms are in the Soho and Covent Garden districts both of which have become renowned superfast broadband ‘notspots’.
Government, nationally and internationally needs to work together with global commercial broadband providers if the UK is to truly reap the rewards superfast broadband delivers. It is imperative for the whole of the UK economy that our digital infrastructure in central London does not fall behind that of rival global cities!