Monday, 28 January 2013
The Government today announced plans for the second stage of HS2 - the high speed train network that is supposed to link London with the rest of the country. The rest of the country being Birmingham, Manchester, East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds. Ummm. not much help if you live anywhere else. And some of these new stations will be built outside the destination cities, so any time saved in reaching the station will probably be lost getting to the final destination. And all this will take some seventeen years to complete - assuming no delays caused by planning disputes etc, so maybe twenty to twenty-five years might be more realistic. Phase one has already been under discussion for many years without anything actually happening.
At the same time the country is struggling to keep up with the growing demand placed on it by broadband and internet technology. Keeping in mind lots of things, including things the HMRC wants you to do, need to be and can only be done on line these days. Most broadband, in many parts of the country, still runs off old fashioned copper telephone wires which are not up to providing the speeds that most providers can offer. If you are lucky enough to have a cable connection then faster speeds are available. But if you are in a remote area, or even a small village just of the main cable network, then the cable companies do not want to know you.
Now, I'm not speaking on behalf of the individuals who might want to play endless games on their computers or watch instantly downloaded films, although these people would benefit. I am speaking on behalf of businesses who want to boost trade, to profit themselves and the country, because, let's be honest, businesses are in existence to make money as well as provide jobs.
Obviously it would take time and a great deal of money to connect every home and every business to a cable run network of broadband. And money, even government money, is limited. So what makes more economic sense? Building a high speed train line that will connect certain cities in twenty years time or connecting the whole country to the Internet via cable within the next five?
Who stands to benefit from high speed trains and how?
The supporters of high speed trains say that business will benefit because people will be able to get to meetings quicker. But the train will only take you from one main line station to another. At each end of the journey you have to get to and from the station which will quite likely negate the time saved by the speed of the train. It still makes a long day travelling with the possibility of overnight stays. And that only helps the people who are actually in the UK to start with. So any benefits are limited to the people who want to go to the Capital.
Who benefits from a decent Internet service?
Almost everyone. From businesses who are required to do all their Government related work on line, to anyone who can order their prescriptions from the doctor without making a phone call.
Businesses benefit because they can operate from anywhere and yet deal with the whole world. There is nothing to stop a pottery firm in Stoke On Trent selling to Australia and South America, having meetings with their representatives all over the world at the same time, with no travel expenses, no loss of time, the most inconvenient thing might be someone has to stay up all night to accommodate the time difference. This not only speeds up business but cuts down on the emissions caused by travelling, hence doing a little to save fuel and the climate.
This is already happening in some forward thinking companies but there is no reason why it cannot be extended even further. And even if we are not talking about global business, decent Internet means people from different parts of the country can work together without having to travel to meetings. More people could work from home, cutting out that awful slog to work every day, giving them more time for family or other commitments.
Already companies are operating where the staff have never actually met face to face and shaken hands. People are getting used to being part of a global community with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Where once upon a time your circle of friends consisted of the people you met at work, school or other local places, we now share our lives with people around the world. Whether they are real 'friends' remains to be seen, but they are contacts who provide opportunities.
So imagine the possibilities for all businesses, large and small, if they could have reliable Internet connections to the world.
And surely this would be cheaper than building a new train line, disrupting the lives of the people living on the route. And if the main telephone companies were given the funding to employ and train enough people around the country to accomplish this, it could be done a lot quicker and with less hassle than building a new train line. Plus this would provide employment which equals taxes for the government.
So please Department of Transport forget HS2. We don't need to travel to do business any more. The technology is available to have all sorts of conference calls and videos meetings. I do believe you can even create virtual people now for those who feel they need a physical presence to make things real. Trains, no matter how passionate you are about them, belong to the 19th century way of doing things. The island of the UK is small, it doesn't have the wide open spaces of Europe and other continents. Bring this country into the 21st century and make sure everyone can get superfast broadband and then we might see this country grow again.