Cornwall is experiencing a technological revolution with broadband speeds in many areas among the fastest in the UK
Cornwall is experiencing a technological revolution with broadband speeds in many areas among the fastest in the UK. This high speed hub has made waves across the county and more people and new internet based businesses are choosing to locate in the area despite the distance from London and the South-East. So how has this happened and what are the effects on the county?
The Government has pledged that the UK will have the ‘best broadband network in Europe by 2015’ with a target of 90% of homes having access to superfast broadband by 2015. This is good news for those many regions that currently experience slow and unreliable internet access, however, it is a challenge to achieve. It is not only the difficult-to-access rural areas that have slow speeds, but also a number of areas of the South-East too. This article looks at the plans to get us all up to speed.
How did Cornwall become superfast?
What economic and social waves have been created?
What about the rest of the UK?
Cornwall is well known as a surfing hotspot and the idyllic beaches and craggy coastline attract tourists to the county in the summer, with tourism estimated to contribute 24% of Cornwall’s Gross Domestic Product. It is not so well known as an internet surfing hotspot for new generation broadband technology. In 2002 many rural areas believed that they could expect to wait up to 20 years for fast internet access. However, Cornwall opted to seek investment elsewhere and ten years later the results are unprecedented.
Actnow was set up as a non-profit making organisation to provide broadband access to the county. It worked in partnership with the local government and enterprise and secured a grant from the EU regeneration fund Objective One for £5.25 million. BT were signed up to install the service and invested more than £3 million to use Cornwall as a test for rural broadband (Guardian, 2003). Actnow met the targets set by the EU which included the sign up of 3300 small and medium sized businesses, creating 500 high quality jobs and 90 new media start up companies by March 2005 and in 2003 the take up was almost as fast as in major UK cities.
Today Actnow has been renamed Superfast Cornwall and it continues to promote and develop high speed broadband access in the county. The success of the scheme was recognised by a Best eEurope Practices award, and observers in Poland and the Netherlands are impressed by the outcome of the scheme.
Following the initial success of superfast broadband projects, BT have invested £78 million in a £132 million project which aims to provide superfast internet connections to 80% of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly by 2014 (Broadband expert, April 2012). The remaining £53 million is provided by EU funding and £1 million by Cornwall County Council (Financial Times, August 2012). This project is expected to create 4000 new jobs and secure 2000 existing ones as well as improve the lives of businesses and householders who are restricted by the slow speed of surfing the web (Guardian, September 2010). Cornwall is one of England’s poorest areas and continues to receive EU funding. This is despite the fact that Cornwall is often voted as one of the best counties on quality of life indicators (Telegraph, March 2003). The economic and social diversity within the county is great and this should provide the backdrop when considering the high-tech revolution taking place.
St Agnes is at the forefront of the internet revolution as a test bed for the ultrafast fibre optic technology. It is a small fishing village located on the north Cornish coast and a picturesque tourist destination. However, the arrival of superfast broadband has brought a new kind of business to the area. The traditional Cornish industries of agriculture, fishing and mining have declined and many residents regard fast internet access as vital for filling the employment gap. In fact many residents say that ultrafast broadband is a necessity for daily life, even more so than gas, which is only partially available (Financial Times, February 2012).
Businesses in St Agnes can access broadband which is several times faster than in many cities, with speeds of up to 300mbps compared to the national average of 7.6mbps. Many internet based companies have relocated to Cornwall to access this high speed service while looking out the window at the ocean rather than a grey office block. UK Net Web is just one example of a company to relocate here. The founder, Toby Parkins, says that he can easily compete with London based businesses for global clients. Video conferencing enables him to speak to clients in Japan and he has employed people from the BBC and LoveFilm who want to work in the hi tech world yet live in a place like Cornwall (Financial Times, February 2012).
So while Cornwall may be relatively remote in terms of its road and rail network, it is no longer virtually remote. It is hoped that internet access will enable the county to diversify its economy adding new and creative technologies alongside its tourism and other sectors.
It is not only the Cornish economy which is set to benefit from faster broadband speeds. The social infrastructure will also be supported. For those living in more rural areas fast broadband will enable access to educational resources, and schools admissions services can be completed online as already happens in many UK counties.
Potentially healthcare services will be improved as health can be monitored remotely by the web, enabling services to be provided more efficiently and potentially enabling elderly residents to stay in their homes for longer (Telegraph, July 2011).
Local services can also be enhanced; the local radio station can now connect remotely to its DJ’s and stream in high definition. Local events such as festivals and concerts can now be accessed online. One local bar now offers wine tasting evenings for local villagers who discuss the wines with vineyard owners in New Zealand by video conferencing (Financial Times, February 2012).
Broadband is now considered an integral part of the UK’s infrastructure network and sits alongside transport and energy networks in infrastructure development. In his autumn statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced £5bn of spending on infrastructure projects such as roads, railways and broadband networks (BBC, November 2011). In a recent BT Survey it found that most households are ‘home hubs’ using the internet for vital services such as banking, grocery shopping and other essentials. This means that broadband could be considered an essential service rather than an entertainment service or a luxury (Telegraph, July 2012). This is important considering that such large areas of the country have relatively poor broadband services.
Ofcom have designed this interactive map to show different elements of broadband including access and speed. Unsurprisingly the mountainous areas of Scotland and Wales lack a comprehensive service however, perhaps surprisingly, areas of the South East are not well served too (Telegraph, July 2011). Large urban areas currently receive the best service and much of this has come from the private sector.
The Government has promised that Britain will have the ‘best broadband network in Europe by 2015’ and aims to have superfast access for 90% of UK households and businesses. This is a challenge considering the inequality in present coverage. In an attempt to achieve this £530 million has been set aside to target rural broadband networks. Originally county councils were asked to bid for the money, although recently funds have been allocated to councils in order to speed up the process of installing the services.
The areas that have received the funding include:
Cumbria £17 million
Devon and Somerset £31.3 million
East Sussex £10.6 million
Lincolnshire £14.3 million
Norfolk £15.4 million
North Yorkshire £17.8 million
Urban areas will not receive funding from this budget as it is expected provide firms will improve services. Rural areas are far less profitable for private companies because the number of households and businesses in rural areas versus the cost of creating next generation broadband services do not result in profit (BBC, August 2011). There is already some concern that BT are dominating the market place as they have already won the contracts in Rutland and Lancashire and is the sole bidder in Cumbria and Wales (Telegraph, July 2012). Fujitsu have withdrawn from many projects in rural areas because it will take too long to make a good financial return. In Cumbria, Cable and Wireless have had to end their network coverage in the Duddon Valley as they lost public subsidy funding and it was an uneconomical service (Guardian, May 2012). That said Kcom have recently installed new technology in parts of Yorkshire where new trials are taking place.
The aim is clear: to provide 90% of businesses and households with superfast broadband technology so that the UK is the best broadband provider in Europe by 2015. However, the future for broadband across the UK is uncertain. It is dependent upon both public and private funding and the technology being used. One thing is certain; the residents of rural Britain are keen to get it so that they do not get left behind in the superfast revolution.
Explain how technological improvements have helped to build a more interconnected world.15 marks
Explain how technological innovations have led to a ‘shrinking world’ for many people. 10 marks
Cornwall and Superfast Cornwall can be used as a case study example for internet service provision, rural services, interconnected world and as a starting point for rebranding.
Broadband project in Cornwall is making ’strong progress’ Broadband Expert, 24 April 2012
Cornwall leads the way with broadband, Financial Times, 5 August 2012
Grandiose claims for Cornwall's future broadband raise eyebrows, Guardian, 30 September 2010
Devon is the cream of the counties crop, Telegraph, 5 March 2003
Cornwall leads the high-tech revolution, Financial Times, 2 February 2012
UK Broadband mapped, Telegraph, 6 July 2011
UK Chancellor announces more funding for broadband, BBC, 29 November 2011
How soon, how much? Telegraph, 12 July 2012
Ofcom interactive map
Rural broadband funding ready for England and Scotland, BBC, 16 August 2011
Broadband service to be withdrawn from Cumbrian Communities Guardian, 23 May 2012
Broadband makes Cornwall a recruitment hotspot, Broadband Expert, 9 May 2011
Surfing Cornwall, new style, Guardian, 26 June 2003
Kcom's fibre-optic rollout puts rural Yorkshire at forefront of 'digital spring', Guardian, 25 June 2012
This article is compiled and written by Victoria Hull, a teacher of A-level Geography
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