...digital businesses need access to infrastructure at all layers so that they can add value and differentiate.
This is the current policy of Manchester Digital on the development of digital infrastructure for the city. It was adopted by the council of Manchester Digital in January 2014.
Governments think digital infrastructure is important. In 2010, the UK government said that Britain would have the ‘best super fast broadband in Europe by 2015’. The EU 2020 initiative says that ‘Europe needs download rates of 30 Mbps for all of its citizens and at least 50% of European households subscribing to internet connections above 100 Mbps by 2020’.
These policies have led to intervention to accelerate the introduction of faster broadband. The UK government has committed £530m to the improvement of broadband, mostly in rural areas. Pretty much all of this money will go to BT to improve its existing copper-fibre hybrid network. Because of fears about EU ‘state aid’ regulations, additional funding promised by the government for cities is now mostly going towards vouchers for SMEs to buy better connections. Many believe the vouchers, which only pay for install costs, will do little to help access to better connectivity for SMEs.
Manchester Digital also thinks that infrastructure is important. However, we doubt that subsidising broadband services is the right way to improve infrastructure. Our policy - shared with our partners in One Digital - calls on local and national government to help digital businesses collaborate to create a new, open and shared infrastructure as a platform for service innovation.
The Manchester Digital Viewpoint
Creative, digital and tech business sectors make a vital contribution to economic growth. This is recognised by policy makers nationally and in the Manchester region where these sectors are particularly strong. Manchester has an ambition to become one of the world’s top 20 digital cities by 2020.
This will require world-class digital infrastructure. Not just so that Manchester businesses can access better services, such as faster broadband (although many Manchester Digital members are desperate to get better broadband), but so that they can create new services and play a role as suppliers as well as users.
To maximise the opportunity for innovation and growth, digital businesses need access to infrastructure at all layers so that they can add value and differentiate. It requires new infrastructure, not just patching up the old. The infrastructure must be fully open, to enable investment and competition in new services - like symmetric broadband, fast wireless and 4G, cloud services and data hosting.
A new, open digital infrastructure would mean widespread deployment of fibre to business premises, open access to ducting and dark fibre, carrier-neutral hubs for routing, switching and server equipment.
It would require collaboration between investors, owners and suppliers to create a shared resource, since no one can achieve it acting alone.
Manchester Digital believes these principles should inform policy and strategy in the region. We call on policy makers to focus on creating the conditions for collaboration between investors, property owners and service providers in both private and public sectors. As the industry association representing businesses that can help build and operate such an infrastructure, as well as benefit from it, we stand ready to work with anyone who shares the ambition.