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‘Divert HS2 billions to fund fast, reliable internet for all’ – Top broadband boss calls on UK to end digital exclusion

A top broadband boss has said the tens of billions of pounds being invested into HS2 would be better spent digitally connecting the UK.

Tony Hughes, CEO of independent broadband ISP 4th Utility, claimed the UK has put the crucial task of providing fast broadband for all “on the backburner”, after recent Ofcom figures revealed that just 28% of the UK currently has access to full fibre.

4th Utility believes access to full fibre – the fastest, most reliable broadband available – should be a basic human right, and described the current status quo as “unacceptable”.

Mr Hughes singled out the HS2 project, set to provide high speed rail services between London, the Midlands and northern England at an estimated cost of around £98bn. He said those funds could be better spent ensuring the remaining 72% of the country are given access to the fastest internet available.

He said: “The pandemic showed us the importance of having fast and reliable broadband – and it’s now something everyone should demand, regardless of where they live or what they earn. But inequality is deepening and digital inclusion is something that needs to be much higher on the economic agenda.

“Good connectivity should be a basic human right, but sadly the UK faces a mammoth task to connect every home.

“In reality, Ofcom’s latest Connected Nations report shows just 28% of homes have access to full fibre, and around 120,000 UK homes are still without any internet access whatsoever. And although there’s been some improvement over the last few years, there’s a huge amount of work to do and we’re already falling behind other nations around the world.”

The controversial HS2 project, initially announced in 2015, has been hit by numerous delays and spiralling costs – now estimated to be between £72bn and £98bn for the entire scheme. Once complete, it’s aimed at cutting journey times and increasing capacity.

But Mr Hughes said: “The Government is spending these billions on a train that gets you to the north 30 minutes faster. Although I back the efforts to better connect the UK, I think investing that money into digital infrastructure would deliver a significantly better economic impact than spending the time and money on a train from Manchester to London.

“The way we work is changing. Big infrastructure projects like that are not necessarily the way forward anymore. We must recognise that and rethink.”

Mr Hughes recently spoke at a 4th Utility-hosted event held alongside regeneration and property publication Place North West and technology firm ITS, called Futureproofing Connectivity Across the Liverpool City Region, where he laid out his views in full, participating in a panel alongside public sector officials.

4th Utility, one of the UK’s fastest-growing independent Internet Service Providers (ISP), recently began to roll out its new ‘social tariff’, providing fast, low-priced internet for areas most in need of digital connectivity.

The offering, 50% lower than the UK average, is based on a 30-day rolling contract with no tie-ins to lengthy agreements and does not require extensive paper trails involving credit checks.

Mr Hughes, who founded the Greater Manchester-based company in 2017, added: “We always think of the UK as being one of the world’s richest countries, but as we have seen from the cost of living crisis, that doesn’t always translate through to everyone enjoying a good quality of life.

“Access to fast internet is actually one of the areas we are lagging behind. According to’s Worldwide Broadband Speed League, we’re 43rd in the world when it comes to connectivity, with only a fraction of homes currently having access to full fibre broadband.

“This problem isn’t just confined to rural areas either – it’s mostly in towns and cities.

“Digital inclusivity is hugely important in helping to reduce the digital divide across the nation, and 4th Utility is committed to championing change across the board.”

Lisa Baker is Group Editor for the Need to See IT Publishing Group. Lisa writes about HR, Technology, Health, the Environment and Business.
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