R100 is Within Our Grasp

The Government's Digital Strategy rightly highlights the crucial role that digital connectivity and participation play in the economic and social wealth of the nation, and in the welfare and life chances of the individual.  The Government is also absolutely right to set an ambitious and clear goal, as expressed in the R100 programme.

So, how to translate good intentions into practical result?

First, encourage the use of innovative new technologies, better suited to the challenges of remote, and/or dispersed communities, where the dangers of social and digital isolation are perhaps the greatest.  Public intervention to date has been highly effective at delivering a significant expansion of BT's backbone fibre network across the country, connecting street-side cabinets in so many towns and villages.  But, in the view of many observers, BT's local copper network has pretty much exhausted its capacity to meet the expectations of policy makers and consumers.  Fortunately, however, this extended fibre network now represents a perfect jumping-off point for the proliferation of various new technologies, both fibre-to-the-premise and wireless.

Second, encourage new forms of delivery, with innovative suppliers working with local communities that contribute their own talents, energies and time, and with wide stakeholder engagement (local authorities, health and social care providers, schools, churches and businesses) to ensure maximum civic participation.  There is also an obvious requirement for the focused training and development of digital skills - whether as user and consumer of digital services, or as enablers and facilitators of the nation's critical infrastructure.

Third, consider public intervention as a form of investment, rather than a grant, thereby avoiding many of the distorting and inhibiting strictures around State aid compliance, while ensuring a more efficient alignment of public and private interest, and while also clearly delivering better value for the public purse.

Conclusion: the right combination of policy initiatives and incentives, allied to the natural and undistorted pull of market demand and the push of technological progress, will in our view ensure the successful delivery of the Government's R100 ambition.


Why the contribution is important

There is an extensive literature on the benefits - economic, social, welfare, educational, health - of high rates of digital connectivity, literacy and usage.  See, for example, the most recent literature review by the Carnegie Trust, on the relationship between digital and social exclusion:


Or an earlier, more wide-ranging analysis carried out by econometric consultancy, SQW on behalf of the BDUK:


The importance attached to high rates of digital connectivity and digital literacy are reflected in the ambition of the Government's R100 strategy, and do not need rehearsing here.  The important point is that, with unprecedented pressures on the public purse, on public services, particularly welfare, health and social care services, with the unremitting pressure of globalisation, and the aging of the population at large and of rural communities in particular, there has never been a time when the digital agenda was more important.  And the solution is to hand.



by michaelarmitage on December 15, 2016 at 03:02PM

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  • Posted by KBG December 15, 2016 at 15:48

    Broadly in agreement. However the point about the end-of-life copper installation is right especially when it is appreciated that probably a majority of rural connections are not to upgradeable roadside cabinets but directly to the exchange (EO lines) and are also often several miles long.
    Whilst FTTP for these premises probably is not practical, bringing fibre to a cabinet or distribution point maybe 1-200 metres away would be. We should be able to go wireless the rest of the way.
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