Are ‘notspots’ standing in the way of digital hubs?
Recent research from Staffordshire County Council, commissioned in May 2011, has identified significant broadband ‘notspots’ within the county . These, often rural, areas were identified in the study as having limited or even no internet connectivity. These results are worrying for the government who have expressed the explicit aim of every community in the UK having high speed broadband by 2015. The government is using money from the BBC licence fee to part fund the plans which will provide money to rural areas to build so-called digital hubs.
The government have made the explicit link between access to high speed broadband and economic performance with the enterprise zone scheme. 21 zones are planned with locations in cities such as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and Bristol. As well as cheaper business rates and lower levels of planning control the guarantee of superfast broadband has been estimated to contribute to a potential 24,000 jobs to be created by the zones .
The challenge remains greatest for outlying areas. Ofcom estimates that three million people live in mobile ‘not-spots’ and most of these are rural areas. The Communications Consumer Panel said regulator Ofcom should oblige operators, bidding in the upcoming 4G mobile auction, to extend services to rural areas .
Clearly physical hubs remain crucial until decentralised and virtual working can be supported by the necessary internet connectivity. Furthermore the focus of the enterprise zones within large urban areas emphasises the importance of traditional factors of agglomeration in the quest for economic competitiveness.