Measures to improve information and cost vital for UK to get ahead in broadband race, report for government finds

The UK’s ability to capitalise on the rollout of next-generation gigabit broadband is at risk because too few consumers and businesses are aware of the technology and its benefits, according to a report that proposes urgent action from government, industry and regulators to tackle the problem.

With a £5 billion Project Gigabit investment from the government, alongside industry investment, the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband is gathering pace. While there has been a slew of adverts from broadband providers extolling the merits of their fastest services, a report by the Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group (GigaTAG) found around six in 10 (59%) consumers were not aware of gigabit-capable broadband, and a third (33%) of small and micro businesses have not heard of gigabit-capable broadband.

Access to a fast and reliable broadband connection has become a vital part of everyday life for consumers and businesses and the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband should ensure the UK’s infrastructure can continue to meet the demand for years to come.

However, low demand for these better services could hinder the government’s ambition for at least 85 per cent of the UK to have access to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025.

In a report published today, the GigaTAG, assembled by Which?, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) at the request of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), has outlined its final recommendations, these include:

  • Ofcom and the broadband industry to work together on clear and common terminology to cut through advertising jargon and describe gigabit broadband and its benefits in straightforward terms.
  • As part of its work to improve the clarity of information, a proposal for Ofcom to assess the role that a “gigabit-ready” labelling scheme – similar to the BSI KiteMark – could play in increasing consumers’ and businesses’ understanding of gigabit-capable broadband.
  • Enlist the help of local authorities in an effort to raise awareness and promote the benefits of upgrading to gigabit broadband at a local level. At the right time, the government should also undertake its own nationwide awareness-raising – leading a coalition of stakeholders to work together on a national campaign.
  • To improve digital skills for small businesses and the self-employed, where possible, new digital skills provisions should offer digital skills training alongside vouchers for software or hardware.
  • In addition to ongoing work to introduce voluntary social tariffs, the government should conduct an evidence-based assessment of the existing and potential measures to support low-income households. This includes exploring the possibility of a targeted voucher scheme aimed at lower-income households, which could take a similar approach to the free school meal voucher system promoted by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford.
  • Further consideration should be given to an employer-led scheme to support the uptake of gigabit broadband by offering employee discounts, similar to gym membership discount schemes offered by many businesses. This will also help businesses support remote working, which has boomed in the wake of the pandemic.

The new report identifies affordability as a key barrier to the adoption of gigabit-capable broadband for low-income households, with research revealing around two in five (44%) of those in a low-income household citing it as an issue. Also among the barriers identified in the report is the low willingness among consumers to pay more, with only one in five (21%) people willing to pay more for gigabit-capable broadband, and a lack of understanding of the benefits, with two in five (41%) unclear about how it differs from their current package.

The GigaTAG believes this package of measures, alongside additional recommendations outlined in the final report, will help motivate consumers and businesses to switch to gigabit-capable broadband networks, enabling them to take advantage of the benefits of these connections and support the government’s ambition to roll out these faster services across the UK.

The advisory group has taken a collaborative approach, with a range of organisations responsible for taking the recommendations forward – including the government, Ofcom and the broadband industry – to ensure both consumers and businesses can take advantage of gigabit-capable broadband. It has said it expects progress updates when it reconvenes in six months.

To coincide with the launch of the GigaTAG’s final report, Which?, along with the CBI, FSB, Ofcom and Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG), is hosting a panel discussion to explore the recommendations set out in the final report and discuss how these can be taken forward.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy and Chair of the Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group, said:

“Digital connectivity has never been more important, with the pandemic highlighting how dependent consumers are on a good broadband connection for daily activities such as remote working, access to services and keeping in touch with family and friends.

“Demand for faster, more reliable broadband services is crucial to the success of the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband, and to ensure the benefits of these connections are realised. Better information about the benefits, measures to improve the language used to describe these services, along with possible targeted voucher and discount schemes, will help to address the barriers preventing consumers from benefiting from better connections.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said:

“Gigabit broadband is the next giant leap forward in internet technology and our record £5 billion investment is rapidly fueling the rollout – with 60 per cent of the UK due to have access by the end of this year, up from just 12 per cent in 2019.

“We believe passionately in making sure everyone can feel the benefits of these lightning-fast speeds and I will be carefully considering GigaTAG’s welcome proposals for boosting consumer take-up.”

Felicity Burch, CBI Director of Innovation and Digital policy, said:

“Digital connectivity has been the lifeblood of the economy during the pandemic, which has supported businesses up and down the country to keep going. From the shift to home-working to the rapid adoption of technologies, these were only made possible by reliable digital connection.

“As we move from crisis to recovery, capitalising on the new business opportunities to be had from better connectivity will be essential. The government has set an ambitious aim for at least 85% of the UK to have access to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025. Bold action will be required now to ensure that the take-up of gigabit-capable services keeps pace.

“Taken together, the GigaTAG’s recommendations offer a blueprint to stimulate consumer and business demand for gigabit-capable broadband, and help the government realise a dynamic future-proofed innovative economy.”

Kieran Charleson, FSB Digital Policy Chair, said:

“Small businesses need good quality internet but all too often they are left grappling with a poor connection and slow broadband speeds, potentially losing vital business and hampering their productivity. The pandemic has demonstrated the vital importance of connectivity.

“Gigabit is a fantastic opportunity for businesses to futureproof and many small firms are already engaging with the new technology or are eager to start.

“Digital skills training needs to be a vital part of the gigabit rollout as it arrives in communities over the coming years, as should targeted information programmes. Equipping businesses with the confidence, skills and knowledge will empower them to engage with the new technology and to use it to their advantage.”

Notes to editor

The Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group’s final report is available here.

Consumer figures are based on a survey of 2,114 UK adults conducted by Yonder on behalf of Which?. The survey was conducted online between 12th and 14th March 2021. Data was weighted to be representative of the UK population by age, gender, region, social grade, tenure and work status. Of the respondents, 1,913 were solely or jointly responsible for decisions about their household broadband and completed the survey. A low-income household is defined as a household with an income of less than £21,000.

Figures on small and micro-businesses based on an FSB survey of 1,536 firms undertaken in December 2020.

What is Gigabit-capable broadband?

Gigabit-capable broadband is capable of delivering speeds of at least 1,000Mbps. A number of technologies can deliver gigabit-capable broadband, including full-fibre, cable, and fixed wireless solutions, such as 5G.

What is GigaTAG?

To ensure that consumers and businesses are ready to take advantage of gigabit-capable broadband connections as they become available, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) asked Which?, the CBI and FSB to convene an Advisory Group to drive consumer and business take-up of gigabit speed internet connections. It will represent consumers and businesses across the whole of the UK and seek a wide range of views from a diverse range of stakeholders. More information available here: https://consumerinsight.which.co.uk/articles/gigatag

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