The general public would rather have superfast broadband than better airports or railways, according to the results of a poll commissioned by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET).
Out of 2,011 adults surveyed in December 2013, 17 percent thought that building new airports would benefit the UK economy while only 12 percent said that building extra runways at existing airports would be beneficial. Just 16 percent thought that building a high-speed rail line would boost the economy.
One of the more popular options was to build new nuclear power stations – 32 percent thought this would benefit the UK economy.
However, this compares to 43 percent who thought extending superfast broadband to all UK households would be a good way to encourage economic growth.
“The public have told us that supporting the e-economy by rolling out universal superfast broadband will have more economic benefits for the UK than more traditional infrastructure projects like increasing airport capacity or high speed rail,” said Professor Will Steward, Chair of the Communications Policy Panel at the IET.
These figures are interesting in the context of the ongoing controversy around the UK government’s plan to build HS2 – a high-speed railway line that would shave 20 minutes from the journey time between London and Birmingham. The projected cost of HS2 is commonly quoted as £42 billion, with a further £7 billion required for high-speed trains, bringing the total up to nearly £50 billion.
For comparison, Analysys Mason had previously estimated it would cost around £28 billion to roll out a national fibre-to-the-home network across the UK. The UK government declined to fund such a project, instead allocating £530 million to stimulate commercial investment in broadband in hard-to-reach areas – which in practice has meant more fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) and VDSL.
Public perception of the projects’ value for money doesn’t seem to be too far from the government’s own data. An expert report published in November 2013 said that for every £1 the government is investing in superfast broadband, the UK economy will benefit by £20 over the period 2009 – 2024. In contrast, the expected cost-to-benefit ratio for HS2 is only £2.30 for every £1 spent, and that figure has been reduced as the construction costs of the project increase.
By Pauline Rigby
IET News: Superfast broadband more important than new airport capacity
Gov.uk News: The Benefits of Broadband