For years, we've been fed unthinking claptrap that Britain is on the cusp of being a world leader in superfast broadband. It's usually accompanied with the wrongheaded suggestion that such leadership will see the UK regain a pre-eminent place in the global economy. Recent figures, released by telecoms watchdog Ofcom, puncture such silly notions.
Currently, the UK is ranked as the seventh lowest nation when it comes to the number of superfast broadband connections per 100 people. We're trailing behind countries such as Hungary, Latvia and Bulgaria.
This pitiful performance puts pay to the government's fanciful claim that the UK will have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. But a closer look at the figures might leave us with even more questions about the whole superfast broadband programme.
For too long, the underlying ethos of the superfast broadband rollout has been based on a foolish 'build it and they will come' mentality. There has been blind acceptance that the simple act of upgrading a country's internet infrastructure will somehow deliver an economic miracle, attracting business and investment like never before. The land of milk and honey, we're told, is but a mere 50Mbit/s connection away.
Sadly, the facts don't appear to support this infantile notion. Take Ireland and Hungary, for example, both of which outpace the UK when it comes to delivering population superfast services.
According to the latest musings from the Organisation for Economic Co-peration and Development (OECD), Hungary is still mired in recession – it's second in four years; Ireland, meanwhile, can expect to endure meagre growth and high unemployment for the next two years at least.
Simply put, the link between superfast broadband and economic performance is not as direct as the policymakers would have us believe.
For too long, the government has been given an easy ride on its broadband pledges. After all, who is going to complain about having their internet connection accelerated?
But even if we were to replace every strand of copper wire in the UK's telecom infrastructure with lightning fast fibre optic cable tomorrow, the benefits will not materialise until years down the line – and even then, there is no guarantee the benefits will be realised.
Under the government's tissue-thin reasoning, the deployment of superfast broadband can give the UK a competitive edge by serving as the breeding ground for the next generation of internet-based start ups. The UK could become, so the thinking goes, home to the next Google, Facebook or Twitter.
This is, of course, complete balderdash.
The UK already has a thriving start up scene, and its the envy of many of our industrial competitors. But its existence and the future success of these companies – and the ones that will follow in their wake – is not predicated solely on the UK's internet infrastructure.
What the UK is really crying out for, and what would really give our ossified economy the jump start it needs, is a populace that is trained in the art and crafts of technology. We need school leavers brimming with ideas about how they can turn technology into life-enhancing business opportunities.
Once we have that, the presence of superfast broadband can indeed act as the foundation for the creation of mind-blowing new businesses.
But without youngsters who understand the fundamentals of programming, and who are trained to think about how technology can solve problems, superfast broadband will do little more than provide them with a decent connection for playing online games.
Unfortunately, and as we've seen all too often, it's far easier to spout mindless promises about making the UK a broadband leader than it is to create a substantial and credible plan for IT education in this country.
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