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Government action is needed on UK’s digital divide

Government action is needed on UK’s digital divide

Without government action in 2019 the UK risks a growing digital divide that leaves people and businesses behind, according to Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director.

With firms chomping at the bit to upgrade the UK’s digital networks, better connectivity will help flexible workers, reduce costs and lay the foundation for companies to adopt 5G. But the government needs to act.

With Brexit sucking the oxygen out of priorities like this at home, the government needs to take practical steps this year to add billions to our economy, enable companies to adopt new technologies and close the productivity gap between London and the rest of the UK.

There’s a real risk that 2019 will be a year in which we overlook the rest of our economy.

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There’s already a digital divide in rural areas across the UK. Our ability to enjoy world-class digital connectivity shouldn’t be determined by where we live or work. It’s not just a social case for national coverage, but a clear economic one.

Businesses have already invested heavily in digital infrastructure. In fact, the private sector will provide most of the £33bn total investment needed to deliver full fibre networks across the UK. But government must help firms access those hard to reach areas.

Why aren’t we equipping every new build in the UK with full fibre technology to enable more flexible working? In this case, it’s not just investing that matters. It’s also about the challenges companies face getting access to properties when looking to install digital connections in private rentals.

Businesses want to see fast-tracked planning legislation going through Parliament this year if we are to give constituents, consumers, and commuters the world-class connectivity they need.

There’s no doubt that the UK is developing fantastic technology. But right now, on the global stage, the race is on to ensure firms adopt it.

2019 must be a year of rapid uptake. First by extending support for businesses to help small firms adopt existing technologies like 4G and full fibre.

And second, by expanding trials in new technology like 5G so businesses can explore the art of the possible with seamless connectivity. Because in today’s world, digital connectivity is not just a nice to have, it’s a business basic.

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