On the back of Boris Johnson and the Conservatives thumping general election win last week, the new government lost little time in outlining its agenda going forward.
In the Queen’s speech on Thursday, her majesty carried out the annual State Opening of Parliament. Once again, this included planned legislation to support the roll-out of Gigabit broadband and internet safety related regulation.
But what makes this different is the fact that the Boris Johnson and the Conservatives now have a majority of 80 seats, which will make it significantly easier for the government to pass this legislation.
Focusing on tech angles, the government is targetting fibre broadband, skills and Internet safety going forward.
The first part of the speech focused on the UK’s departure from the European Union and the NHS, before moving onto more tech related subjects, including ways to encourage flexible working.
“Measures will be brought forward to encourage flexible working, to introduce the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers and to help people save for later life,” said the Queen. “My Ministers will develop legislation to improve internet safety for all.”
“To support business, my government will increase tax credits for research and development, establish a National Skills Fund, and bring forward changes to business rates,” said the Queen. “New laws will accelerate the delivery of gigabit capable broadband. To ensure people can depend on the transport network, measures will be developed to provide for minimum levels of service during transport strikes.”
Regarding the delivery of full fibre services, or FTTP (fibre to the premise), the government chose not to state the specific 2025 target for making “gigabit-capable” broadband available to every UK home.
But it has committed to “accelerate the delivery of gigabit capable broadband.”
It aims to achieve all this by making it cheaper and quicker to telecom firms to gain access rights (to blocks of flats, buildings etc), even if a landlord fails to respond to repeated requests for access.
All new home being built will be required to have full fibre connections (instead of last mile copper connections), and £5 billion has been recently pledged aims ensure FTTP reaches even in hard to reach rural locations.
Boris Johnson has been outspoken about the need for the UK to accelerate the deployment of superfast fibre broadband across the UK, after he previously called for the technology to be made available to “every home in the land” within five years.
Prior to that, the government had set a goal of 2033 for the rollout of fibre to all premises, a target Johnson had previously called “laughably unambitious”.
Before the general election, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party had pledged to nationalise BT’s fixed-line network – a policy that Johnson had called a ‘crackpot’ idea.
Experts took little time to note the contents of the Queen’s speech and its recognition on the importance of connectivity in this digital age.
“In this digital age, we’ve come to expect all aspects of modern life to be at our fingertips – internet connectivity being one of them,” said Steve Thorn, executive director of digital at IT services provider Civica.
“We also think most people own a computer, smartphone or enabled device and have the basic skills to navigate their way around this digital world,” said Thorn. “However, it’s not just connectivity issues holding the public sector back. It’s clear that digital exclusion is one of the great social challenges of our age, with the Queen’s latest speech announcing that new laws will accelerate the delivery of, and access to, gigabit capable broadband.”
“Dr Grant Blank who oversaw the OII survey said ‘Non-users are older, proportionately less well-educated and have lower incomes,’ suggesting that some people see online access as an unaffordable luxury,” said Thorn. “Therefore, when considering the best solutions for getting the nation online, it’s not as simple as introducing better broadband infrastructure or 4G/5G; rather, it has become a social challenge.”
“The mission to eradicate digital exclusion will be complex, but it’s not unachievable,” said Thorn.
He advised the government to scale up digital inclusion programmes in rural areas; invest in digital infrastructure; identify who is not using the internet and understand why; build engaging digital services across different channels; and finally educate and train citizens in the use of digital services.
“It’s vital that the UK embraces the changes needed to develop and drive digital transformation right across the country; ensuring all citizens are included and able to dial into digital success,” Thorn concluded.
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