The economic benefits of full-fibre broadband to build back stronger

Like Brunel’s railways and Bazalgette’s sewers, digging down into British soil is the answer to our next seminal infrastructure revolution.

Like Brunel’s railways and Bazalgette’s sewers, digging down into British soil is the answer to our next infrastructure revolution – building full-fibre broadband to replace the nation’s creaking Victorian communications backbone which is now unfit for the future.

And with great broadband, comes great economic impact. Not just for urban businesses, residents and communities but in rural and hard-to-reach areas too, like in East Anglia where we’re rolling out our future-ready Hyperfast networks.

Growing evidence suggests widespread adoption of full-fibre broadband will pump billions of pounds into the nation’s coffers to help restart the economic engine in 2021. The latest research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) suggests £59bn by 2025 for the UK. We break down some key areas which stand to gain the most.

New business opportunities

World-class full-fibre broadband will remove the shackles of copper and become the bedrock of major business investment, growth, productivity and innovation. Small and medium sizes enterprises (SMEs), which account for 95% of businesses in the East of England, and tech start-ups could benefit the most from the new infrastructure, especially early adopters with supercharged aspirations historically held back by slow speeds and poor reliability.

The East of England already boasts a GDP worth £164bn and access to gigabit-capable download and upload speeds will help attract the best talent to allow business owners to invest in workforces whilst helping to plug skills gaps and rebuild local economies.

Credit: Hryshchyshen Serhii

Elsewhere, agri-tech firms could store, share and live edit huge files via the Cloud and other collaborative platforms. Financial and insurance services could commit to videoconferencing with confidence. Energy firms could save on hardware and maintenance costs. Construction firms could use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve energy-efficient designs and win new international clients. Employees in businesses of all sizes and sectors could capitalise on digital innovation; the sharing of new ideas, enterprise and creativity.

Home working productivity

The same CEBR report says 270,000 people could be freed up to move from cities to rural areas to work from home and stimulate rural economic growth. This ties in with rural businesses recruiting the best talent from the deepest pool possible.

We know the coronavirus crisis has shone a unique spotlight on the need for fast and reliable internet to power a new culture of working from home. Appetites have been whetted for staff and bosses, scepticism has been replaced with trust, and productivity is on the up.

This is especially vital to new parents, people with disabilities, and the over-65s. Their increased labour participation would again boost the economy. The CEBR analysis also suggests over 500,000 people who would otherwise be out of work in pre-Covid times could find attractive employment opportunities; driving down unemployment rates.

Remote working would also result in a greener environment with 300 million fewer daily commutes on our roads.

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National Farming Union (NFU)

The NFU’s latest broadband survey revealed four in 10 farmers don’t have adequate broadband to conduct their business in the 21st century.

Speaking to County Broadband earlier this year, NFU East Anglia Environment Adviser Rob Wise said reliable, fast download and upload speeds are “vital” for the farming community, not just to grow businesses but for “mere business survival”.

“All government form filing, from VAT returns to Rural Payments Agency claim forms, have to be done online. Many involve verifying data-hungry maps that require a high-speed connection,” he said.

Production technologies like optimal nutrient placement and selective weed control rely on precise mapping, in which satellite and high-speed internet connection play important roles.

Rob added: “The rollout (of full-fibre broadband) to the most remote rural areas in East Anglia has been slow and patchy and therefore the NFU supports an ‘all means necessary’ approach involving players like County Broadband who are identifying and delivering solutions to hard-to-reach communities.”

The best of the rest

  • Rural communities will also benefit from greater property saleability with full-fibre broadband speeds installed at their premises, in addition to local business growth. We’re offering free connections to village halls and schools, whilst pubs and other community hubs are primed to take advantage of future-ready connectivity too.

  • Our healthcare system will be able to modernise and improve its range and quality of digital services offered to patients, from virtual clinics to cloud-based records. This is vital to help the NHS cope with the nation’s ageing society.

  • Public sector efficiency will range from developing and promoting new online services and improving traffic flow, to removing waste from streets and keeping people safer with improved security. These will unlock indirect economic impacts.

  • ‘Unknown unknowns’. As the well-worn phrase goes, it is impossible to predict all full-fibre broadband offshoots. There is untapped potential in smart energy networks, home automation, intelligent transport systems and more. The mix of lightning-fast internet and untold technological innovation could be explosive. Watch this space.