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Too few consumers and businesses aware of gigabit benefits – report

The UK’s ability to capitalise on the rollout of next-generation gigabit broadband is at risk because too few consumers and businesses are aware of the technology and its benefits, according to a report.

Around six in 10 consumers (59%) and 33% of small and micro businesses are not aware of gigabit-capable broadband despite the Government’s £5 billion Project Gigabit investment and a slew of ads from broadband providers, a report by the Gigabit Take-up Advisory Group (GigaTAG) found.

The first areas targeted for the upgrade have been revealed, with work to start in 2022.

As many as 510,000 homes and businesses long plagued by sluggish broadband will be at the front of the queue, including Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley.

One gigabit is the equivalent of 1,000 megabits, capable of downloading a high-definition film in under a minute.

However, low demand for these better services could hinder the Government’s ambition for at least 85% of the UK to have access to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025.

The GigaTAG, assembled by Which?, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) at the request of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), has recommended that Ofcom and the broadband industry work together on clear and common terminology to cut through advertising jargon and describe gigabit broadband and its benefits in straightforward terms.

Other recommendations include a possible Kitemark-style labelling scheme to increase understanding of gigabit-capable broadband, the improvement of digital skills for small businesses and the self-employed, and consideration of an employer-led scheme to support the uptake of gigabit broadband by offering employee discounts.

The new report identifies affordability as a key barrier to adopting gigabit-capable broadband for low-income households.

Only one in five people (21%) is willing to pay more for gigabit-capable broadband amid a lack lack of understanding of the benefits, the study found.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy and chairwoman of the GigaTAG, said: “Demand for faster, more reliable broadband services is crucial to the success of the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband, and to ensure the benefits of these connections are realised.

“Better information about the benefits, measures to improve the language used to describe these services, along with possible targeted voucher and discount schemes, will help to address the barriers preventing consumers from benefiting from better connections.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “Gigabit broadband is the next giant leap forward in internet technology and our record £5 billion investment is rapidly fuelling the rollout – with 60% of the UK due to have access by the end of this year, up from just 12% in 2019.

“We believe passionately in making sure everyone can feel the benefits of these lightning-fast speeds and I will be carefully considering GigaTAG’s welcome proposals for boosting consumer take-up.”

Felicity Burch, CBI director of innovation and digital policy, said: “As we move from crisis to recovery, capitalising on the new business opportunities to be had from better connectivity will be essential.

“The Government has set an ambitious aim for at least 85% of the UK to have access to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025. Bold action will be required now to ensure that the take-up of gigabit-capable services keeps pace.”

An Ofcom spokesman said: “We agree it’s important people can understand the benefits of these faster, more reliable connections. So we’ve already begun work with industry to make sure customers can compare clear, consistent information from different providers.”