The Perils of Superfast Broadband

Jonathan Billinger [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsIt’s almost guaranteed that you are reading this on the internet, and hopefully this will have loaded almost instantly. All of us early adopters and ‘digital migrants’ recall the days of dial up where you waited for line by line, or pixel by pixel of your webpage to load. While these days are thankfully history for individuals and businesses based in urban areas, who can (for the most part) comfortably load web pages in the blink of an eye, and stream hours of music or film through HD services like BBC iPlayer, Netflix or Lovefilm, some areas still struggle to reach the kind of speeds many of us would impatiently drum our fingers on the table at.

In December of 2010, the government announced plans to spend £530m on bringing superfast broadband to the whole of the UK by 2015. It wants every UK resident to be have access to broadband speeds of 2Mbps, and 90 percent to have access to superfast broadband (24Mbps or above) with the overall goal of the UK having “the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015”.  An announcement welcomed not only by citizens currently unable to obtain broadband access or those in the countryside with substantially lower speeds, but also entrepreneurs, startups and SMEs accross the country who rely upon internet access to run their businesses. These aren’t just innovative businesses like the ones we represent, but retail, services, manufacturers, every area of the economy needs a reliable internet connection to run and grow their business.

The House of Lords Communications Select Committee has now launched an inquiry into the superfast broadband proposals looking into the coalition’s approach to improving access to digital services in the UK.  The Committee aims to hear from any interested organisations and individuals and have asked for written evidence on areas to find out if its targets are likely to be met and whether it is being ambitious enough in its plans. In the call for evidence, the committee asks a number of questions including the following

What impact will enhanced broadband provision have on the media and creative industries in the UK, not least in light of the increased danger of online piracy? What is the role of the Government in assuring internet security, and how should intellectual property (IP)  best be protected, taking into account the benefits of openness and security?

In the name of copyright protection we’ve seen the criminalising of civil cases, the extradition of students for creating a links page, the advocacy of web blocking and ‘search and destroy’ systems that would filter and remove content before it is actually deemed illegal, and now it would appear we need to argue whether individuals should be allowed access to the internet at speeds the rest of the world will be able to enjoy on the basis that some may abuse that privilege.

The irony is that superfast broadband presents no threat to copyright, indeed it will facilitate its legitimate access. Creators, for the most part, want as many people as possible to access their content, and time and time again studies show that when legitimate access is made readily available consumers will turn away from pirated material. Being able to easily access and legally stream high quality content for a fair market price is far preferable to any user.

We at Coadec have talked before about how blocking the web is the wrong way to help creative industries, and how protectionism only serves to stifle innovation. We didn’t think we would ever have to argue the merits of providing ordinary citizens and businesses with working access to the internet vs protecting an existing business model against disruption.

The deadline for the Lords Committee’s call for evidence is Tuesday 13th March. Coadec will be preparing its own submission to the committee, and we would encourage others to do so as well, even if only to respond to this one question. If you would like assistance with drafting your response, or have further questions about the process, please do not hesitate to get in touch.


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Coadec's Executive Director. Sara can be reached at sara [DOT] kelly [AT] coadec [DOT] com or by using the contact details on this website.

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