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Should broadband customers be excited about HS2?

Friday, January 25th 2013 by Paul France
What does the HS2 railway project mean for broadband customers?
The government says the HS2 rail project will offer a boost to broadband networks.

Rural broadband campaigners baulked at the government's decision to splash out £33 billion on the HS2 high-speed rail project.

Opponents of the development argued that the huge sum of taxpayers' money could be far better spent. If the aim of the project is to make England more connected, why not invest in broadband instead?

With faster broadband networks, businesses will be able to keep in touch via solutions such as videoconferencing, rather than having to rely on face-to-face meetings. Not only would this arguably negate the need for a costly new rail line, it would also benefit the environment.

It looks like the coalition is eager to address critics of the scheme. This week, Transport Minister Simon Burns promised that the major rail development will not just lead to faster trains - it'll also produce new high-speed broadband infrastructure.

Confused about how a train line will help your internet connection go faster? Well, the politician explained that plans are in the pipeline to run fibre optic cables capable of supporting the next generation of broadband services alongside the track. Apparently, the path of the route is being designed with the goal of allowing a "broadband highway" to be built without causing any further interruption or damage to the countryside.

If Mr Burns is true to his word and HS2 does indeed spawn an advanced fibre broadband network, then suddenly the project seems a lot more appealing.

However, the plans shouldn't be touted as any kind of short-term solution to the UK's rural broadband woes. Firstly, construction isn't due to begin until 2017, two years after the government's deadline for the delivery of super-fast broadband to 90 per cent of the country.

Secondly, the first phase of the project only runs between London and Birmingham, meaning any resulting broadband networks are unlikely to be of benefit to residents and businesses across the rest of the country.

The second phase will run to Manchester, Leeds and points further north but is not due to open to passengers until 2033 - so for most consumers, don't hold your breath if you're hoping HS2 will lead to any kind of short-term improvement in broadband speeds.

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