HS2 will not deliver superfast broadband

The Daily Telegraph and other news outlets are reporting that Simon Burns, the conservative MP for Chelmsford and Minister for Transport, said that HS2 will bring faster broadband to rural areas. He is quoted as saying,

“HS2 is far more than a new railway line — it is a national infrastructure project that will bring places and people closer together while creating jobs and driving growth. Construction of HS2 gives us the perfect opportunity to explore how we can make it easier for even more people to benefit from ultra-fast broadband — and potentially deliver improvements to the provision of other utility services, including water and electricity.”

As many of my colleagues have discussed, there are serious issues with the £32 billion cost of HS2 and tacking on additional taxpayer money to lay fibre alongside the rail seems outlandish. But the most ridiculous part of Minister Burns’ statement is the assumption that fixed line, superfast broadband will still deliver Internet access by the time the project is complete in 2026, or whatever the date is now.

In the UK access to the Internet takes many forms from mobile 3G and 4G to WiFi to fixed line broadband. The rise of WiMax as well as more affordable satellite broadband are set to provide even more, competitive options to access from our homes and as we travel around. By 2026, who knows what technologies may be developed. Cars are set to be used as WiFi hotspots and even the iconic black cab here in London will be a part of a scheme.  The development of personal drones presents another WiFi connection option.  The sky is the limit!

In all seriousness, WiFi and WiMax require fibre optic backhaul to masts and base stations in order to operate. The laying of fibre could be more efficiently and competitively achieved if the fibre and premise tax were scrapped and planning laws were relaxed. That said, fibre continues to be laid today so it looks like Minister Burns has a lot to learn about superfast broadband connections. Besides, apparently 70-90% of homes along the HS2 route already have access to a superfast broadband connection.

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