Budget 2012: UK as Europe’s technology centre?

The idea of super-connected cities was first announced in the autumn statement last year when the Chancellor pledged £100m to create 100Mbps (megabit per second) citywide networks in 10 urban areas.

According to the Budget statement it is hoped the investments in cities will provide ultrafast broadband coverage to 1.7 million households and high-speed wireless broadband for three million residents by 2015.

While Mr Osborne said that he wanted the UK to become “Europe”s technology centre” only this week Peter Cochrane, who as chief technology officer at BT pioneered the introduction of broadband into the UK, was warning that the country could be “frozen out of the next industrial revolution” because the government”s broadband plans were neither well funded or ambitious enough.

Speaking to the communication committee in the House of Lords he suggested that the government’s aspirations had been set far too low.

Cochrane said: “20Mbps isn”t superfast. It”s super slow. It”s a candle, while the rest of the world is using the light bulb. The UK risks being frozen out of the next industrial revolution.”

A minimum speed of 24Mbps is fast enough to watch several internet videos simultaneously, but in the future ‘Internet of Things’ in which hundreds of machines are connected to the internet it will be inadequate.

For example Paris and Moscow are planning fibre cables direct into millions of homes, to deliver speeds of between 100Mbps and 1000Mbps. UK targets will soon be out of date Cochrane warned.

“True, high speed, unlimited, access to the social, economic and democratic benefits the internet brings is a fundamental human right,” he told the Lords communication committee. “Yet in terms of broadband, the UK is at the back of the pack. We”re beat by almost every other European country and Asia leaves us for dust. The great decline in our relative global position has saddened me over the years and we need to invest at least £15bn to redress this now.”

The news that the government was to introduce corporation tax relief from April 2013 for the video games, animation and high-end television industries was welcomed by Richard Wilson, chief executive of the video games industry trade body Tiga who said it was ‘terrific news’ for the UK video games industry.

According to figures from Tiga tax relief for the video games sector could generate and safeguard 4,661 direct and indirect jobs, offer £188m in investment expenditure by studios, increase the games development sector”s contribution to UK GDP by £283m and generate £172m for the Treasury.

However, although the move was welcomed Julian David, the newly appointed director general of Intellect, the trade body for the UK”s technology industry, he felt the government could have gone further.

“We need to go much further than today”s announcements on the creative industries and broadband and take some real action to optimise the full potential of the entire UK tech sector.”

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