Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group publishes report on connectivity demand
Matt Warman MP described the government’s gigabit ambition as “a matter of social justice” at the launch of the Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group’s report on 16 June. The Minister for Digital Infrastructure lauded the work the GigaTAG panel had undertaken in collating its set of recommendations and noted that further work is needed to take them forward as the UK telecoms industry continues its investment in rolling out the next generation of connectivity.
The report, the output of the GigaTAG—convened by Which?, the Federation of Small Businesses and CBI, with input from the Broadband Stakeholder Group—sets out measures for the government, industry and regulator in order to boost the demand and take-up of gigabit broadband by UK consumers and businesses.
As Project Gigabit gets underway—with £1.2 billion of a total £5 billion funding pledged by government—to deploy gigabit in areas in which commercial rollout is not commercially viable, and industry investment gathers pace, research by GigaTAG found that around six in 10 (59%) consumers were not aware of gigabit-capable broadband, and a third (33%) of small and micro businesses have not heard of gigabit-capable broadband.
GigaTAG identified some of the key barriers to take-up:
- For consumers: a lack of awareness, little benefit/perceived benefits (no “pull” to upgrade) and practical barriers to adoption, such as affordability or capability to engage
- For small businesses: lack of understanding of gigabit services, limited awareness of the return in investment, and crucially— a lack of digital skills
In answer to these barriers, GigaTAG recommends two sets of actions: those that are “fully developed” or in train, and those that require further investigation by stakeholders:
It is worth noting, both by the Group and in its report launch event, that collaboration will be central to taking these recommendations forwards. GigaTAG itself has taken a collaborative approach in its work, with a range of organisations responsible for taking the recommendations forward – including the government, Ofcom and the broadband industry – to ensure both consumers and businesses can take advantage of gigabit-capable broadband.
The call for collaboration is commendable: techUK’s Communications Infrastructure and Services Programme has consistently called for a collaborative approach to addressing barriers to supply and demand of gigabit-capable broadband, specifically through the Fibre Driving and Infrastructure Sharing Working Group. For the UK telecoms industry, a diverse sector with unique commercial drivers, how the recommendations work together as a suite will require further thought and consideration, if they are to be widely adopted.
The messaging used by industry, regulator, and central and local government will be critical to ensuring take-up is maximised. But timing of the messaging will require intensive coordination as the pace of rollout pulses across the UK’s nations and regions, and through communities and business zones. Clear messaging will help increase awareness, and consequently demand, by consumers and businesses.
Local authorities have a role to play: the recommendation for BDUK to create a “gigabit toolkit” for use at a local level will help build awareness, with the right support from central government.
Labelling may not prove a “silver bullet”, but on terminology, Ofcom’s work in this area may prove important. For the regulator, which is taking a “quality of experience” approach, the agreement on a common baseline of terms and standards for industry to adopt is seen as a helpful way forward. Ofcom’s Selina Chadha, Director of Connectivity, indicated the regulator has a “blank sheet of paper” when it comes to the term “gigabit”.
For small businesses and digital skills, messaging around gigabit-capable broadband services, and the benefits for enterprise, should include clear signposting to skills resources and training options. Intersecting gigabit take-up with the Help to Grow SME scheme could benefit businesses with digital transformation and sustained growth.
GigaTAG has confirmed it will reconvene in six months' time to review progress updates from government, Ofcom and the broadband industry, then meet bi-annually.