By Steve McCaskill
Broadband should be treated like a utility, such as electricity or water, a House of Lords committee has recommended, arguing that the continued presence of "not-spots" is "unacceptable."
The committee's report, entitled Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future, says some sections of society and regions of the United Kingdom are at risk of being left behind by the digital revolution due to inadequate connectivity and education.
"It's unacceptable that some urban areas still experience 'not-spots', particularly where the lack of internet directly affects the UK's ability to compete," said Chair of the Committee Baroness Morgan.
Broadband as a Utility
"Also, in some parts of the United Kingdom, as much as 20 percent of the population has never used the Internet. Only when the Government treats the Internet as a utility, as important and vital for people as water or electricity, will these issues be addressed."
The government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) program has so far connected two million properties to superfast broadband and intends to cover 95 percent of the population by 2017. BT has so far won all of the money available from BDUK and its Openreach fiber network now reaches 22 million homes.
Rival Virgin Media's cable infrastructure is expected to expand to 17 million over the next five years following a £3 billion investment, although the majority of this footprint is in urban areas. There are also a number of Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network providers, but most of these are in cities, too.
The government says it will connect the final five percent of premises not covered by existing projects through alternative technologies like satellite and LTE, but the committee says access is only half the problem. It claims six million people have never used the Internet and that the United Kingdom is not preparing for a future labor market that will see millions of jobs at risk of automation.
'Wake Up Call'
The committee says there is a "distinct lack of Government coordination" on digital initiatives and wants to see the creation of a single digital agenda led by one cabinet minister. Such an agenda would see digital literacy taught alongside maths and English in the national curriculum, along with digital skills and cyber security training for adults.
"This report is a wake-up call to whoever forms the next Government in May," added Baroness Morgan. "Digital is everywhere, with digital skills now seen as vital life skills. It's obvious, however, that we're not learning the right skills to meet our future needs.
"From an early age we need to give digital literacy as much importance as numeracy and literacy. While we welcome the introduction of the computing curriculum, we are concerned about the ability of teachers to deliver it, with more than half of our IT teachers not having a post-A level qualification relevant to IT. At the higher education level, there is an urgent need for industry input, so that graduates are learning job-relevant digital skills.
"Our overwhelming recommendation is that the incoming Government creates a Digital Agenda, with the goal of securing the UK's place as a leading digital economy within the next five years. Digital skills can no longer be dealt with by individual departments–this must all join up. We urge the new Government to create a Cabinet Minister post to steer this Digital Agenda through."