IoD: ‘Business calls for faster shift to fibre broadband to unleash flexible economy’

The Institute of Directors today called on the Government to commit to a firm date to switch off the UK’s old network of copper lines, in order to force the shift to faster fibre broadband. The Government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, published last week, said a it was a realistic assumption “that switchover could be underway in the majority of the country by 2030”, but the IoD urged a more ambitious target, as soon as possible after 2025.

The business group said that switching to fibre would bring wider benefits than simply faster speeds for consumers. According to a poll the IoD conducted of 700 members, the biggest effect of improved broadband would be enabling employees to work more flexibly. It would also allow companies themselves to become more flexible, adopting and offering more cloud-based services. Directors overwhelmingly said they used home broadband for work purposes, showing that the traditional divide between business and personal internet is breaking down.

With almost half of rural businesses reporting unreliable connections, rolling out fibre across the country is vital to addressing regional imbalances, the IoD said. As well as having better reported broadband connections, those in inner cities were 24% more likely to use cloud services for data storage than those in rural areas.

Dan Lewis, Senior Advisor on Infrastructure at the Institute of Directors, said:

“With an ever-changing world of work, business should be looking to enable employees to work flexibly. Unfortunately, firms are paying the price for the neglect of full fibre connectivity. We are jogging while the rest of the world is sprinting. We need a copper switch-off date of 2025 or soon after.

“Where you live should not determine your ability to work, or even start a business, with flexibility. The internet should be creating a more level playing field for businesses regardless of location, but uneven broadband coverage means the opposite is true. For many firms, particularly in rural areas, poor connections lead to lost business and missed opportunities.

“We welcomed many of the measures proposed in last week’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review to increase supply. The challenge to a fibre rollout is no longer about money. Going forward, the task will be educating landlords, consumers and businesses about the benefits of fibre. More difficult will be finding and training enough digital engineers to accelerate the fibre rollout from two million premises a year to over three million.”

“With Brexit looming, there has never been a better time to invest in fibre optic cable and deliver immediate benefits to those who start using it.”