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Labour: Digital Strategy a 'missed opportunity' to help those left behind

Wednesday, March 1st 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The government’s UK Digital Strategy is a “missed opportunity” to helps millions of people stuck in the digital slow lane, according to Labour’s shadow digital minister.

The strategy was launched this morning and reiterates the government’s plan for investment in fibre broadband and the introduction of a new universal service obligation (USO) as part of the Digital Economy Bill.

It also promises to create free digital skills training for more than four million people and to make Britain the “safest place in the world to live and work online”.

Culture secretary Karen Bradley said: “We will work closely with businesses and others to make sure the benefits and opportunities are spread across the country so nobody is left behind,” she said.

“There should be no digital divide – every individual and every business should have the skills and confidence to make the most of digital technology and have easy access to high-quality internet wherever they live, work, travel or learn.”

But Louise Haigh, the shadow digital minister, said there is little new in the strategy.

“Millions are being left in the digital slow lane yet rather than commit to universal superfast which will benefit millions the government have, for the fourth time, re-announced a fund, first trailed 16 months ago, which will mean that by 2020 only 7% of homes and businesses will receive full fibre,” she told the Yorkshire Post.

“Our major cities, towns, swathes of our rural communities and thousands of small businesses are being left behind and the government’s failure to use this strategy to commit to universal superfast broadband represents a missed opportunity.”

The CLA, which represents landowners and rural businesses, said rural areas must not be left behind.

'No comfort'

Dr Charles Trotman, senior economics advisor at the CLA, said: “The government has said it will commit to rolling out 5G coverage, but this is of no comfort for those who still have poor mobile coverage or no coverage at all.

“Without UK-wide infrastructure, the government’s vision for their digital strategy will simply not work.

“The CLA has said on many occasions that the USO will be crucial in providing much-needed connectivity, which has to be the key objective. More must be done to see this completed by the 2020 deadline.”

Stuart Orr, of accountancy firm EY, agrees that improving 4G coverage and rolling out faster broadband by 2020 is “essential”.

“While the UK scores well compared to other markets in rollout of ‘entry level’ fibre broadband, some countries and their economies are already benefitting from extensive coverage of full fibre,” he said.

“At the same time, a continued focus on connectivity speeds in rural areas must remain a priority for providers as the government pursues its target of the UK becoming a ‘digital nation’.”

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