Broadband in Hardshaw Street not much better than Shetlands!

There is no fibre broadband on Hardshaw Street. Or to be more accurate, the exchange that supplies that area is not enabled. This is often called a “broadband black spot”.

To quote Which magazine:

“Broadband users in some of these areas might find it hard to carry out online banking or to use streaming services like Netflix or BBC iPlayer due to slow internet”.

They point to speeds like:

“The Orkney islands (3Mbps), Allerdale (5.7Mbps), Shetland Islands (6.7Mbps), Argyll and Bute (7Mbps), Moray (7.1Mbps),  Fermanagh and Omagh (7.4Mbps) and Ceredigion (7.5 Mbps) were the worst affected local authority areas. By comparison, mid-table Coventry experienced an average speed more than twice as fast – at 16.3Mbps.”

As we see here the First Floor of Century House has a download speed of 9-15 Mbps.

That’s right, broadband in the Shetlands is only marginally slower than Hardshaw St.

Marie Rimmer MP’s constituency office for St Helens South is on this floor. It is possible they get their broadband from another source. For instance, the business suite on the 6th floor is the office of Conor McGuinn, MP for St Helens North. This has better broadband so perhaps they share wi-fi.

Even when this is considered, it still raises serious questions over cost, competence, and value.

Cost

Cost should not be considered a major factor. In this article on the website of South Gloucester Council, a cost of £18,000 is mentioned. They used a Community Fibre Partnership with Open Reach (formally part of BT). There are often additional subsidies to get the cost down further.

When one considers the amount of money being used to regenerate the Town Centre this is very small by comparison.

For instance, in the Council’s Economic Reset plan there is an item:

“Prepare and submit Town Investment Plan” with a cost of “£0.170m development funding £25.000m full funding”

Clickworks

There is also the money the St Helens Chamber received to create it’s Clickworks Digital Skills Centre, also located on Hardshaw Street. It is literally marketed as the “Home of all things digital”.

In an FOI to Liverpool City Region, we can reveal that the Chamber received a £492, 586 grant to create Clickworks. As we can see the St Helens Council contributed £50,000.

Competence

When one considers the amount of money being spent on “digital” it is concerning that many of the major decision-makers don’t appear to be asking basic questions about broadband speeds. The competence concerns don’t end there. The St Helens Chamber in a public consultation over a year ago admitted they ran one software course which was stopped due to “lack of demand”. This lack of demand does not appear to affect its ability to deliver hairdressing courses.

City Region considers that the “Technology sector is currently the highest paying in the City Region with a median salary of £40,000”.

Value

The final concern is value. How exactly will faster broadband deliver the benefits touted

“We know our residents and businesses want to see improvements made to broadband speeds which is why LCR Connect is such a significant revolutionary project which has the potential to contribute more than £100m to the City Region’s economic recovery in the short-term and up to £1bn in the longer-term”

For instance, how much of that benefit is construction jobs? Moreover, can anyone explain how a faster broadband speed creates a better-paid job?

Conclusion

Given the very low levels of productivity in the UK, and especially places like St Helens, it is difficult to understand how faster broadband translates into better quality jobs. 3 years ago, very few businesses used Zoom or Teams. The fact that it took a crisis of that magnitude to prompt widespread digital adoption makes one question what, if anything, the current approach will achieve.