As Martha Lane Fox, the UK's Digital Champion makes her maiden speech in the House of Lords about digital inclusion and the economic benefits of having Internet access, one village in Yorkshire is fighting to get next generation broadband.
E RADAR's Will Roebuck sets out the case for Shepley Broadband.
Shepley will always be a special place for me because it's where I grew up and call home. Despite living away often and travelling with work, my ties to the village will always remain strong. My family still live and work in the area contributing to the community and local economy.
The surrounding area is prime commuter belt for professionals and trades working in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and even London. Shepley is on the edge of stunning countryside comprising the South Pennines and Peak District National Park, and is gaining international recognition with its annual Spring Festival - taking place this week - which always attracts serious artistes. With a population of around 3,000 in the 2001 census, Shepley seems the idyllic Yorkshire village but for one major problem...
No fast broadband
The village doesn't have fast broadband.
The current average speed for broadband across the UK is 12 mb/s. Shepley gets just 2 mb/s. And despite Shepley being on a major commuter highway, BT is struggling to make a business case for bringing a 3-mile fibre optic cable across the countryside and into the village and environs.
The village faces the enormous challenge of securing funding from whatever sources are available. In its latest bid for funding Shepley is asking 50 per cent of householders (and presumably businesses) to demonstrate their interest in the Shepley Broadband project.
Every household and every business can benefit enormously from access to the Internet. Martha Lane Fox has shown that we can all get better deals online and save money. Even job seekers have a 40 per cent better chance of finding work if they are online! Being part of an online community can end periods of isolation for those who are alone. And there's something very special about grandparents being able to talk with and see their grandchildren from the other side of the world!
The Internet is truly a force for good - a feature which far outweighs the bad news stories that the media and press like to report. And the UK is the e-commerce capital of the world with online sales hitting a record £50.34 billion in 2011. That's 12% of UK retail trade.
Speculate to accumulate
Shepley Broadband's hurdle is to get investment and convince BT that fast broadband is a priority for the village. It's a no brainer for me just how important fast, robust broadband is for a community. Napoleon once said Britain was a nation of shopkeepers. We're now a nation of back bedroom businesses some of which are in the remotest of places. Giving these businesses access to very fast broadband opens up a world of opportunities - a global market in which they can compete for business. And with growing economic threats from online nations such as the USA and China, UK Plc needs to put universal broadband in place across the country now!
Case study - Watts and Associates
And online businesses don't need to be the typical 'online business'. Take for example my brother's company Watts and Associates, an auction business specialising in heavy plant machinery. Johnand Colin, his business partner made the decision 3 years ago to hold their monthly site sales online using i-bidder software. So whilst the auction is physically taking place with real customers on site, those customers that can't make it can bid online from anywhere in the world. Last year Watts and Associates was i-bidder's top selling online auction.
Here you can see the value of Internet access for the local economy is enormous: wealth creation, jobs, community etc. The next Google, Facebook or Wikipedia could be lurking somewhere in Shepley. So we just need to give businesses that entrepreneurial push to get online and make the most of today's global digital economy.
We need Shepley Broadband