UK parliament’s call to upskill nation and make broadband a public utility

19 Feb 2015

To make the UK a digital leader in the ‘the second machine age’, members of the House of Lords have called on the incoming UK government in May to make the internet a public utility and skill the nation in STEM.

The report warns that 35pc of jobs in the UK are in danger of being automated and calls on the future UK government to have a cohesive digital agenda.

“Digital technology is changing all our lives, work, society and politics. It brings with it huge opportunities for the UK, but also significant risks,” they warned.

The digital sector they say was worth an estimated stg£105bn in gross added value in 2011 and that a report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in 2013 reckoned the size of the digital economy could be double official estimates.

“Digital technology is transforming much more than one sector of the economy – the whole economy is becoming digitised.”

It warned that as 3D printing, cybersecurity, robotics, artificial intelligence and digital services go mainstream, the entire workforce of the UK will need to acquire new and differing levels of digital skills.

The bedrock of digital competitiveness: skills and broadband

Unless the UK keeps up with change, it risks becoming a branch economy as critical skills go elsewhere.

The first place to begin, the Lords say, is in hard digital infrastructure like broadband.

“We are concerned about the pace of universal internet coverage and the delivery of superfast broadband. In particular, we find it unacceptable that, despite Government efforts, there are still urban areas experiencing internet ‘not-spots’, which is hampering universal coverage and the UK’s international competitiveness.

“We agree with our witnesses who urged that the government should define the internet as a utility service that is available for all to access and use. This is the bedrock of digital competitiveness.”

The second place to start is digital literacy and ensuring more women embrace STEM education.

“We consider that the government has a responsibility to accelerate the attainment of digital literacy across the population. Future governments must have the ambition to achieve this to realise the UK’s economic potential. It must not stop there; changing technologies demand constant updating of expertise.

“The government is responsible for ensuring the UK’s population keeps pace with the best in the world. 

“The paucity of women in digital and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is holding back UK competitiveness. We agree with our witnesses that increasing the numbers of women could reap significant benefits. Girls have to be engaged earlier and across all education levels. The perception of digital and STEM jobs and subjects as male-orientated must be addressed.”

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Houses of Parliament image via Shuttersock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years