Letter to the editor: Digital Future

Dear Editor,

In response to the recently published House of Lords report, Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future, it is clear that due to the increasing requirement for, and reliance on, universal public access to the internet, the concern that the UK, and businesses in particular, may be left behind in this new digital era must be addressed.

I predominantly agree with the need to “define the internet as a utility service that is available for all to access and use” (Paragraph 43). Yet, I would also argue that for many businesses, the time to act is now. The government's Digital Britain pledge back in 2009 insisted that there would be 100 percent broadband coverage across the UK by 2012, with a minimum speed of 2Mbps. Yet, even at the start of 2015 significant parts of the country are still waiting.

So called Digital Britain is fast becoming Divided Britain and it is the impact on businesses that is most damaging. How can a company exploit lower cost, more agile cloud services without reliable, resilient high speed networks? And how can UK companies struggling with 2Mbps compete with global competition that already have 100Mbps and a commitment to 1Gbps soon?

An inadequate communications network is placing UK business at serious risk of falling behind the competition not only in Europe but across the developing world. As growing numbers of organisations globally begin to exploit the cost and agility benefits of cloud based deployment, far too many UK businesses are still constrained by the slow broadband speeds available – and not only in rural locations. Cloud services are simply too high risk for any business that cannot access reliable, high speed broadband.

Today far too many companies are complaining about broadband speeds but doing nothing about it. The issue is not simply one of speed; it is resilience and reliability. The reality is that UK businesses require not only faster upload and download speeds than those on offer from standard fixed connections but also better resilience and quality of service. UK businesses cannot afford to be on the wrong side of the Digital Divide – but neither can they afford to wait for the incumbent Government to act on this report and produce its ‘Digital Agenda'. Rather than simply sit back and wait for action, it is time for UK businesses to consider the alternatives.

The prospect of the UK's digital future is promising. I welcome the idea of defining the internet as a utility service; for businesses, treating connectivity needs as a high priority is imperative. But it is also one that requires immediate priority.

Mike van Bunnens, managing director, Comms365

Dear Mike,

Can't disagree on the need for more fast broadband and overall resilient and reliable infrastrucutre, however, our prime interest in the document was the highlighting of the cyber-security risk and current skills shortagage including:

Paragraph 78: If the internet is to be viewed as a utility that is accessible to all, cybersecurity must, by extension, be considered an intrinsic part of our critical national infrastructure. We are concerned that there is an inadequate level of awareness amongst the population regarding online safety and personal risk management. .... Given its importance, we believe that there needs to be a culture shift driven by the Government to ensure that the nature of the threat is better understood by the public.

Paragraph 72. We agree with our evidence that the best way to defend against cyber risks and deter attacks is to ensure we train and deploy enough people with the relevant skills and expertise. Everyone will need a minimum level of ability in managing the risks associated with the digital economy. Resilience in the face of cyber-attacks must be built in across the economy.

Paragraph 64. ....sophisticated and targeted attacks for a number of different motives from a variety of sources. In the main, Mr Coleman ( Nick Coleman, Global Head of Security Intelligence, IBM Services) said that this was principally a concern for “our critical assets and protecting them”, ranging from the energy sector to the UK's banking system, and ensuring that they continued to run as expected and without disruption.

Paragraph 66 ....Professor John Vivian Tucker and Dr Victoria Wang said: “Cyber security is essential to the safety of the nation … Having crosscutting knowledge, skills and capability to strengthen all our security objectives was stated in the [Government's National Security] strategy as one of the four objectives in the next five years. This means that individuals would need to be taught how to protect themselves online; and businesses and organisations would need to be aware of the vulnerabilities in their systems and the threats that they face”.

Editor.