I always enjoy reading Matt Ridley in the Times.
Lord Ridley, as he is correctly known, is a clear headed-thinker on science, the economy and the environment. He’s well known as a promoter of shale gas and fracking. In fact he was one of the first people to draw attention to the importance of shale gas, saying in 2011 “shale gas will undoubtedly prove to be a significant new force in the world energy scene, with far-reaching consequences.”
Today in the paper he’s talking about broadband and the countryside. The government has just decided to halt the rollout of superfast broadband to the last 5% of the population. Big deal? His Lordship certainly thinks so.
It’s not just that fast broadband should be considered a vital utility like water and electricity, nor is it just about bridging the gap between poor and rich. Lord Ridley argues that in fact the countryside creates far more output than just farming and forestry (both have to be subsidised anyway). In fact he shows that 98% of the rural economy is not farming or forestry – finance and insurance for example generate twice as much economic impact.
So the countryside matters to the UK economy.
But is the answer for government – actually the taxpayer – to subsidise the eye watering £1 Billion cost of laying down the final 5% of cabling for the remotest communities? in fact there’s plenty of evidence that uptake of subsidised fast broadband isn’t that high anyway, even when where it is available.
Hold your horses and take a deep breath for a moment!
The world is on the cusp of the ‘second machine age’: the technological revolution, which is going to deliver exponential changes to the global business environment, and to society. The advent of social media, the sharing economy, zero marginal cost of reproduction, autonomous vehicles, robotics, and AI are simply manifestations of this revolution.
This tech tidal wave is already upon us, folks.
Will we need millions of miles of old fashioned cables costing billions of pounds in the near future?
Not if Google’s Project Loon is to be believed.
“Balloon powered internet for everyone” Google reckon. Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.
So, thousands of tiny balloons, with small repeaters using the latest nanotechnology, floating in the stratosphere, ascending and descending to catch the right wind direction to move to where they are needed.
Google have already quietly trialed this amazing technology above New Zealand, California, and Brazil.
So bye bye old fashioned copper and fibre cable. Far too expensive and impractical.
Let’s connect from the sky! This is what’s happening in Africa, where they’ve leapt a generation past old fashioned cables and straight to mobile. And where I live in sunny Monaco the completely wireless internet packs a blistering 1 Gigabits per second. It works beautifully. No cables required at all.
And Google has the money to invest, sitting on $90 Billion. They’ve got the cash.
Shares in BT, anybody? Or Vodafone? Nah. This tech tsunami’s going to wipe those dodos off the face of the FTSE before they’ve even woken up to what’s going on. Can you believe it – the Vodafone signal even drops out in Green Park, and for half of the time on the main train lines?
This isn’t the first time I’ve helped the Chancellor out. Let’s pocket that £1 Billion. Sure, let’s get the countryside connected. But let’s invest it in something that isn’t going to be totally obsolete in a few years.