Next generation access refers to the improved speeds at which we can connect to the internet, and research has revealed that 8% of UK households now benefit from a super high speed of connection. But, while this super high speed news may sound fantastically progressive, we really should be aiming to spread this rate of access beyond just a twelfth of households. Because if we compare the rate of connection at the highest rate – 30Mbps or higher – with the UK average of 9Mbps, it is easy to see that the improvements in connectivity are far from inclusive. Indeed, it is very important in a climate of economic crisis that a reliable and fast connection to the internet does not end up being the preserve of the wealthy: news articles reporting on the higher speeds being accessed in the UK have also taken care to note that ‘In the current economic climate, spending an extra £10 a month to get faster broadband is simply not a priority for most households’. And this is unquestionably true in regions where ICT infrastructure leaves much to be desired. Now is really the time then to look seriously into the matter of how Britain can avoid creating a new category of social inequality based on technical computer skills and access to information. Investment in community broadband is happening too gradually.
Philosophers and academics have been speaking recently about how our economy is shifting from an economy of production and consumption to an economy of contribution. To simplify, this means that the future might see fewer global corporations in charge of the goods the rest of us need and a greater number of the general population might also be producers and consumers of a wider range of specialised services and goods. Obviously, things might not work out this way but, if we can look forward to greater independence and a dissolution of a rigid top-down economic model, we can be sure that the internet will have a significant role to play.
Internet users with next generation access are in a really great position currently: there is so much open source software available in areas where ICT infrastructure is established that we can use to improve ourselves, produce artwork, write music, and even develop our own products. However, we must not get too excited about all of this, at the risk of forgetting about the under-developed countries and even the poorly connected areas of wealthy nations who have an unreliable or non-existent level of internet access. Improving community broadband is an urgent issue.
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