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Will UK govt heed the message and spend HS2 cash on broadband?

Friday, June 21st 2013 by Cable.co.uk
The government has been urged to spend a chunk of its HS2 rail budget on broadband upgrades
Several high-profile figures have called for money from the HS2 rail project to be spent on broadband instead.

Ever since the government first mooted plans for the construction of a new high-speed rail network, the HS2 project has come in for criticism. From landowners unhappy that the lines will cross their property to campaigners who feel the money could be better spent elsewhere, it seems everyone's got it in for the scheme.

Discontent at the HS2 plans aren't simply a case of cross-party political posturing; some pretty important figures and organisations have come forward to question the project and its whopping £33 billion budget.

Just as it seemed this disquiet was dying down, TalkTalk Chairman Sir Charles Dunstone and the New Economics Foundation (NEF) became the latest high-profile critics of the initiative.

Sir Charles, speaking to Computer Weekly earlier this month, argued that it makes more sense to spend a fair chunk of the HS2 budget on rolling out improved broadband infrastructure across the country.

This view is shared by the NEF, which has called for £5.5 billion of the total estimated project cost to be diverted from the construction of a fancy new train line to the deployment of ultra-fast 'to-the-door' broadband. 

The argument for at least some of the HS2 cash to go towards faster broadband networks is pretty compelling. 

By 2026 - the year that HS2 is scheduled for completion - existing trends like video conferencing and mobile working are expected to be so prevalent that the need for face-to-face meetings simply might not exist anymore. If that's the case, what's the point in having a hugely expensive, super-fast train line connecting London to Birmingham and points further north? In these times of economic hardship, the last thing the government needs is to embark on the construction of a costly white elephant.

But perhaps we shouldn't be so critical at this early stage. Transport Minister Simon Burns promised that the path of the HS2 route is being planned with a view to creating a "broadband highway" - a network of fibre optic cables alongside the tracks that can be built without causing further damage to the countryside.

If this proposal comes to fruition, HS2 could end up having a significant positive impact on the UK's broadband landscape - and that can only be a good thing.

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