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UK manufacturers call for reliable, future-proof broadband

UK manufacturers’ trade body EEF has responded to the Government Review of Business Broadband warning that the UK’s ongoing focus on speed is potentially distracting policy makers from delivering what industry really needs.

In its submission, EEF says that manufacturers’ primary focus is on a digital infrastructure that is cost effective, reliable and resilient. It must also be future-proofed. The latter is particularly important with the sector on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution (4IR) that will see greater integration of physical production with internet enabled technologies.

Eight in ten manufacturers (80 per cent) say that 4IR will be a business reality by 2025 and over six in ten (62 per cent) plan to invest more in Internet-connected capital equipment in the next five years. Over nine in ten (91 per cent) say that a high-speed connection is as important to their business as electricity and water, while manufacturers rate broadband infrastructure as the second highest priority for investment, behind motorways.

New analysis by EEF shows that in the key areas of speed, network availability, quality and reliability, leased lines are seen as the best choice in meeting manufacturers’ requirements. This highlights the fact that the need is not just about speed, but wider factors to do with reliability and resilience. Such is the importance that over a third of manufacturers (34 per cent) have invested in a dedicated leased line connection, which consequently pushes them down in the queue for superfast broadband upgrades.

EEF is calling for a stocktake to ensure that reliability, resilience and future requirements are being taken fully into account and to ensure appropriate remedies. It says that following the Business Broadband Review, Government must provide a clear framework for improving reliability with milestones, along with plans for remedial action if those milestones are missed. It must also ensure that all players – including Government – stand behind an agreed and co-ordinated strategy.

EEF warns that the UK is in last chance saloon. BT’s Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) rollout has reached just 1 per cent of households and businesses, while the UK remains off the league table for FTTP subscribers according to the FTTP Council Europe.

According to Chris Richards, Senior Business Environment Policy Adviser at EEF, Britain has “clearly benefitted” from the move to faster broadband, which has transformed the economy. “But there’s still much more to be done. The legacy of focusing on speed has served its purpose and it’s now time to do a stocktake on what we need going forward. For manufacturers, this is clear – we need a more reliable, resilient and future proofed network to match the fundamental importance digital infrastructure plays in our modern economy.”

“The UK needs a strategy to improve the reliability of our digital infrastructure through a much more pervasive fibre broadband rollout. We also need confidence that the Government will stand behind that strategy to make sure it’s delivered. The reality is that if we don’t do this now, in five years’ time we won’t be arguing about where we are in the international league tables – we won’t even be in them.”

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