Why is fast broadband so important?

The World Wide Web is 25 year old this year, 2014. For most of those 25 years it was a tech’y tool used by scientists to collaborate and share information. In the last ten years it has moved to mainstream affecting everyone’s lives – even those who would say they do not use the internet.

Today, many, if not most people shop online, keep in touch with friends and relatives online, bank online, get news online. And more and more of us are starting to get most of our entertainment online, express political views online and share and receive information online which we use to make the most important decisions of our lives.

But it will not stop there.........

Broadband is the physical network consisting of optical fibre and copper cables which connect our internet devices to a myriad of computer servers which hold and exchange the data we use online, be that simple webpages, stored voice or video in the form of films, music etc or real time voice or video conversations (e.g. Skype), bank accounts, shopping websites or places where we share information with friends and colleagues such as Facebook and Twitter. These servers are our access points to all this information and already they operate at very high speeds such that the slowest link in the chain to us is most often the connection to the device we use to access the internet, be it a smart phone, a tablet, a PC or our TV.

If we use a smart phone on the move, the physical network is the mobile phone connection running, 2G, 3G or 4G (and 5G) in the future which will increase the bandwidth and speed of the mobile connections.

When we use our home broadband line via WiFi or LAN to our TV, smartphone, tablet or PC, we are using a system designed for analogue voice telephones in the middle of the 1900’s and this network needs to be upgraded from copper wires to fibre optic cable in order to remove the final bottleneck to our ability to make full use of the internet in the future.

If you do the odd bit of web page viewing and send the odd email you might be thinking this doesn’t affect you much, but think about this:

- If you buy goods from a high street shop and are pleased at the price you get, chances are the shop chain uses the internet for stock control, order management with suppliers and cash management with their bank, all of which cut their overhead costs.

- Online banking is today giving bank customers control of their own finances in ways undreamed of before. Some people are even removing the middle man in the banking process with peer to peer lending and borrowing growing rapidly without the banks taking their cut (charges) in the process. This means cheaper loans for borrowers and better returns for savers

- The UK Government is already experimenting with online voting. Don’t expect them to put everything out to a referendum, but why should voters not be able to express their views directly and more often? After all politicians are there to serve us, aren’t they?

- PayPal and similar systems today provide secure online payment services for those who shop online, which work worldwide and make national currencies look outdated. The “Bitcoin” is already operating as a “digital currency” and could become a de facto international currency only accessible online.

- Google already have a text based on line translator. This will soon become a real time voice translator which means that the language barrier to international communication will disappear. The world is truly becoming a much smaller place.

- BT recently paid close to £900Million for the rights to screen Champions League and Europa League football matches. The transmission vehicle for these matches will be streamed internet TV, not terrestrial Freeview or satellite Sky TV. Streamed video TV such as Now TV will not be available in slow broadband areas.

- High definition TV streamed over the internet needs a minimum 10Mbps download speed. With Tablet Computers the best selling gadgets this Christmas it is not unusual for 4 or more devices to be on line in any one household at the same time which will not run properly on slow broadband connections.

- Today the World Wide Web is a collection of webpages managed/controlled by individuals and organisations. It is however the data buried on those WebPages that we want and use when we go online. In the future, the web will become a collection of that data with its segregation on different websites and dot com addresses being less and less significant. People already talk about “data mining”, but in the same way that Tesco used the Clubcard to gain valuable information about what their customers bought, we will all be able to access "anything about everything", without having to know in detail how it is done – we will simply ask for what we want. Google’s search engine started the trend and it will continue to the point that we all have unlimited access to expertise and not just data or information. This is referred to as the “Symantic Web” which the World Wide Web is rapidly evolving into.

In November 2013, the Department of Culture Media and Sport published a report demonstrating that for every £1 invested in the physical broadband network, the local economy grows by £20. In the UK we are slower at getting the benefit of this multiplier than many other competitor countries are and if large swathes of rural UK are left out, they will see significant economic decline compared to their urban neighbours in cities, towns and large villages.

Even if you don't use the Internet, rural house prices may be hit as Rightmove now allow users to screen out properties which do not have high speed broadband. Holiday and hotel booking websites are allowing their customers to do the same. Rural businesses without fast broadband will not be able to manage interactive websites and farmers who are required by law to record livestock movements and make Defra applications on line may have to pay agents in nearby towns to do this for them, thereby increasing their overheads. HMRC Self Assessment, PAYE, VAT and Business Corporation tax returns are all already required to be made on line. The Digital Divide is growing and is looking more and more like a rural/urban divide.

We are in the middle of an information revolution which will be as significant for us all as was the industrial revolution. In the same way as the provision of an electricity supply or a telephone service changed the way people lived their lives in the early 1900's, access to the internet via fast broadband will change the way we live our lives today. It cannot be ignored.

What can you do ensure you are not left out of this revolution:

Firstly, add your name to our on line petition for fast fibre broadband in all Devon and Somerset villages and encourage your friends to do the same.

Secondly, attend the Broadband Public Meeting February 7