The report, published by policy institute Curia, and commissioned by Wildanet, shows that Devon will massively benefit from gigabit-speed broadband, as a result of increased productivity, revenues, export and SME growth. Curia also forecasts a major environmental impact, with over £400 million of equivalent carbon taxation savings between 2021 and 2030 (£45 million per annum by 2025 and £83 million per annum by 2030).
Up to now, the larger broadband commercial operators have only deployed infrastructure where it is most profitable for them to do so, leaving rural and harder to reach areas isolated and without high-speed broadband. And Devon underperforms compared to the rest of the UK, with only 54% having access to gigabit speed broadband, against a national figure of 75%.
Wildanet has been a champion of digital inclusion since its start-up in 2017 and commissioned the research to understand better the full impact of high-speed broadband.
The need for lightning-fast gigabit-capable broadband is recognised by the UK government, as they roll out their flagship £5 billion programme to connect hard-to-reach communities. In January 2023, the UK government awarded Wildanet with 2 contracts (worth £36 million) to provide gigabit-capable broadband to over 19,000 premises in South West Cornwall and Mid Cornwall as part of Project Gigabit.
Additionally, the report highlights that 39% of people in the South West have ‘low’ or ‘very low’ digital skills and in Devon 78,000 people have still never used the internet.
The case for gigabit broadband is compelling and has been accelerated by the pandemic, with home working, video communications, remote services, online banking and retail creating huge, unprecedented demand.
In a work environment, especially for small to medium-sized businesses, the availability of high-bandwidth, resilient and affordable communications is essential and helps underpin growth, productivity, new jobs and investment.
There is also significant new potential for inward investment, business start-ups and higher-value jobs for Devon.
In social terms, the benefits of digital inclusion to health and wellbeing, as well as education and skills can be transformational and even finding jobs is now typically done online.
In the South West, some eight per cent of people have no digital abilities for work and only 37 per cent of people have the ability to do all 20 essential digital tasks necessary for work.
The environmental impact of gigabit-capable broadband is also huge, with research suggesting that such connectivity enables more people to work from home and a full fibre nation could save 300 million commuting trips each year — with three billion fewer kilometres travelled by car. If half the UK workforce worked from home just twice each week, it would reduce UK transportation emissions by four per cent, the equivalent of taking 2.5 million cars off the road.
Based on the current research, the additional impact of gigabit broadband in Devon could be over £400 million of equivalent carbon taxation savings between 2021 and 2030 (£45 million per annum by 2025 and £83 million per annum by 2030).
Helen Wylde, CEO Wildanet, said: “This report highlights not only the opportunity we have to bring transformational change to those in rural and remote communities, but the responsibility we have in achieving it. Our mission at Wildanet is to end digital poverty through connecting people, communities, and businesses, wherever they are in Cornwall and Devon.
“We recently received an additional £50m investment from our principal shareholder, Gresham House, which will enable us to accelerate our high-speed broadband roll-out in Devon and Cornwall by up to five years and therefore accelerate digital inclusion with all of its benefits. While this report is specific to Devon, there are clearly implications for the provision of high-speed broadband nationally”.
Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale, said: "This report demonstrates the enormous benefits that access to high-speed, reliable connectivity can bring. The rollout of gigabit-capable networks in Devon will generate more than £1 billion by 2030 – a truly transformative sum of money. The government’s progress in delivering a digital infrastructure revolution has been remarkable, boosting access to high-speed connectivity across the country by more than 70% in just four years.
"We have also taken significant steps to ensure no one is left behind in the digital age, putting digital skills on an equal footing in the education system alongside maths and English, and working with Ofcom and industry to bring in a range of social tariffs to widen access to connectivity."