Can superfast broadband save the economy?

Can superfast broadband save the economy?

This week saw NESTA publish a policy paper advising that investment in fibre-optic broadband would be a vital part of the infrastructure of our digital economy as it emerges from the recession.

NESTA go on to suggest that ‘a spectrum for speed swap’ could be used to incentivise deployment of universal next generation broadband.

So can next generation broadband play a role in our economic recovery?

There has been a lot of lobbying for NGA in the US, with the incoming Obama administration promising investment in broadband as part of the stimulus. However, the latest statements from the Obama camp suggest that these investments will be restricted to expanding current broadband access to ‘unserved and underserved’ areas.

This may make more sense as an immediate stimulus. Having the government invest in NGA now, on either side of the atlantic, would be unlikely to help the economy in the short term. The lead in times for these sorts of projects, not to mention the time for deployment, would make it unlikely to have an immediate impact – in short, any project would not be ‘shovel-ready’.

However, the government needs to keep a watch on NGA investment. We are yet to fully see the impact of the current economic conditions on investment decisions. If investment fails to materialise, the government may need to step in, in some form – a conclusion made by the Caio review.

It also may be true that the window of opportunity for government to make an impact on investment decisions is closing, given the fiscal austerity planned for the future.

Finally, there is a strong case for ensuring that, when the economy does begin to recover, we have spent wisely and invested in infrastructure that can support future growth – and most would consider NGA to be such an investment.

This is a challenging issue, and worthy of debate. We wait with interest to see what ideas will be discussed in the government’s Digital Britain Report this week.

Peter Shearman, Policy Manager, BSG