I had a commute-from-hell to get home on Tuesday night with a train being broken down in front of mine and my train taking the side-track via a suburban frozen waste. Not fun. I decided to stop commuting for the rest of the week.
For the past two days I have greatly benefitted from the efforts in the past ten years to provide broadband to our country and community. It has allowed me to work from home and do email, Skype calls and productive work from my home office. When I had my own business in 1996 we had dial-up, the internet was very basic, and working from home was a combination of very slow email with very slow browsing on an internet that had very little information. It was so slow, in fact, that I had to go back and get a “proper job”.
Today’s internet experience is now very workable– even though my meagre 2-3Mbps kept on dropping in and out with the pressure of other home workers using the internet in the village. I was actually much more productive, spending the 4 or 5 hours that I might have spent on a train (had the trains been running) doing real work in the warmth of my home. That said, when I mentioned to a friend of mine (who lives in Reigate and gets 50Mbps) that we had only just got 2-4 Mbps and he laughed out loud as they now say!
In some senses, what we have now is SO much better than what we had before (in the mid 1990s), that there is room for complacency and a sense that we have enough broadband….
But in the new world – (the world we are now creating) – the jobs will have to be (globally) competitive and will require a completely NEW superfast broadband infrastructure for the UK. It will have many of the basic characteristics of what we have now – such as browsing, internet, e-commerce and video, but it will become safer, faster, more stable, much more interactive, have a lot more video (where you can see the people you are talking to) and have a far greater global reach. Smartphones and HDTV are likely to hasten the innnovation.
So we must invest in the Next Generation Broadband TODAY. That means putting fibre optic cables much closer – and eventually into the homes we live in and businesses we work in (often, as I proved today, the same thing). With climate change, the weather is likely to become more unpredictable (how many times in our memories have we had commuter-disrupting snow in November?).
Sure, some jobs, like food distributors can’t work on the internet alone. But many new jobs can be created that can take the shocks of climate change and economic fluctuations. Perhaps the Big Freeze will have made people think a bit more about the potential of new forms of work and the relationship between work and travel. Much like the Fax did in the 1980s when we had a postal strike.