Business should buy nation’s broadband

Akamai’s ‘State of the Internet report’ shows the average UK broadband speed is 3.5 Mbps and just one in 12 surfers are achieving 5 Mbps and above. At present, South Koreans can get speeds of up to 100 Mbps and Soth Korea plans on raising the bar further with a tenfold increase in their ultra broadband to 1 Gbps by 2012 (200 times faster than our ‘fast’ 5 Mbps).

Whitehall’s shoot-for-the-stars plan? Well, their Universal Service Commitment wants every postcode in the UK to get a bare minimum of 2Mbps by 2012 (yep, just 2Mbps). In order to install this they’re talking about a 50p per month tax on landlines (cumulatively that’s around £1billion).

£6 a year to get a fibre optic line everywhere probably sounds like a reasonable deal. But the naysayers point out that the poorest – and least likely to take advantage of it – will be funding the speed and convenience for the wealthier.

It could be argued that if broadband is so important for the future of the UK’s infrastructure then our Government should step up and make funding available. But let’s be honest, as our economy’s gone to hell in a hand-basket, the IT slush fund disappeared into RBS long ago. No, those who want to use the infrastructure to become more successful need to take care of things themselves – nobody is coming to help (at least not any help worth having).

That’s where I think they’re looking to the wrong group to fund this. There’d be more traction and less voter pushback for a Business Broadband project (that’s my new label for uber-broadband).

UK business should be canvassed to put its hand in its pocket. Granted, now isn’t the best time to ask businesses for a handout, but when is?

Many large businesses operate on leased lines (such as banks) and don’t suffer the same bottleneck problem of demand we do but they too would benefit from faster coverage and the chance of increasing customer interaction.

This is an investment in their future, not a cost. As such, perhaps we could be allowed some accountancy leeway where we could do some fixed asset right down.

Contributing to it could be thought of like a church collection: the plate goes past everyone but only those who wish to partake do so. That said, we’d need the stern, furrowed brow of a priest-like character to make sure we all give fairly and not shirk out of our cumulative responsibility.

That’s where I see some A-list business folk coming in (think Alan Leighton, Alan Sugar, Deborah Meaden etc). These ‘celebs’ could form a steering committee. Their real value would be in persuading CEOs and proprietors to part with cash; they’d push the hard sell by demonstrating an understanding of their difficulties and a vision of the future.

Branches of request:
Peer levy – perhaps by business category e.g. shop keepers donate £500p.a. Perhaps by staff number (e.g. £75 per employee) or by turnover (e.g. £200 per £100k t/over).

Profits – pressure should be levied at those who stand to gain the most. That’s Internet service providers, search engines, telecoms companies and larger multichannel retailers for a start. Get the telecoms guys to dig as deep for this as they did for their 3G licences. Google donated $2 million towards the upkeep of Wikipedia this month because the strength of one affects the other.

Individual – the pot would also take private contributions. If Robbie Williams wants to throw in £100k to get a better Spotify connection it’s ready and willing to accept.

Google launched the Fibre for Communities program this year in the states. Essentially they want to pair up with providers and show the world that super fast broadband can get to the masses. The difference with a partner like Google is they’ll do so much of the heavy lifting. Personally, I’d take my Universal Service Commitment to the shredder and have Mr Mandelson on a plane to California (with his new pot of business money), persuading the Google team that the UK should be the first outside the USA to benefit from their new insight.

Have I got it all wrong here? If not, what would you and your organisation be willing to give over the next three years (if anything)?

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