The world is changing and has always changed, but the pace now is startling. If I look back over my lifetime the scale and pace of industrial and technological change has been immense, almost beyond the imagination of even the most far-sighted.
But it is not looking back – amazing though it may be – that is important.
It is looking to the future and anticipating the changes to come.
The countries and communities that place themselves at the forefront of technological and scientific advances are the ones that will be more prosperous and more cohesive in the future. And there is exciting news nationally and locally.
I was pleased to announce last month the six pilot areas for a trial of full fibre broadband. Typically at the moment, a fibre connection runs ultra-fast broadband to the green cabinets we see on our streets and then a copper cable runs to our homes.
That has served us well, and made us one of the best connected countries in Europe. But the last stretch of copper slows download speeds, and as data usage is growing fast we must look to the future.
The pilots look at the practicality and financing of rolling out fibre broadband into peoples’ homes.
I am pleased to see that my colleagues at Harrogate Council are putting in place measures which will do just that.
Officers and councillors have started projects looking at Harrogate Connectivity. Part of that is looking at how we can introduce a full fibre broadband network to businesses in the district. This framework can then be used to provide a wider residential roll out when full fibre becomes commercially available.
To put this in context, after the huge investment over the last seven years 93% of residential properties in North Yorkshire can access superfast broadband giving download speeds of up to 24mbps.
But only 2% of UK properties can access ultra-fast fibre broadband allowing download speeds of 1 gbps (giga bit per second) – typically this means a high definition TV programme can be downloaded in just five seconds.
Harrogate Borough Council is also aiming to provide free public wi-fi in our urban areas. This will be a real step forward. It ties in with a £40m Government investment in what is known as ‘the Internet of Things’ or IoT. The IoT recognises that our world is becoming more connected. It is estimated that around 20 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020.
So imagine a scenario where your phone tells you where the available parking spaces are compared to the shops you want to visit, updates you where the best bargains near you are as you walk around, tells you where there is a free table for the food of your choice, pays automatically for the goods you purchase, tells you if friends and family are in town too, reminds you whose birthday is coming up as you walk past a card shop and helps keep you in touch.
Studies show that with an integrated town centre wi-fi network people are more likely to visit and are more likely to linger.
Full fibre broadband and town centre wi-fi are big areas – I do not do them justice.
The possibilities seem to be limited only by the breadth of imagination. But to make it happen we need public bodies and private industry to be hungry to take advantage of the latest advances and we need to push hard for investment.
I will be working with local councils, business and communities to play my part in ensuring we meet those objectives.