A recent report by the Boston Consulting Group shows that the UK's online industry is set to grow at an annual rate of 11%. The UK is ranked top of all G20 nations in terms of the amount the internet contributes to its GDP.
It also shows that if the internet were isolated as a sector in its own right, then it would be the 5th largest in the UK - bigger than healthcare, education and construction.
But that growth rate could be accelerated if only the Government realized just how far behind we are in fast broadband access.
At least George Osborne mentioned broadband in the budget:
“The Government is funding plans to bring superfast broadband to 90% of homes and businesses across the country, and extend mobile phone coverage to 99% of families.
This will help create a living, economically vibrant countryside.
Our great cities are at the heart of our regional economies.
And we will help bring world leading, superfast broadband and wifi connections to ten of them – including the capitals of all four nations.”
All this sounds great.
And I suppose it is something that the subject of broadband is now considered important enough for inclusion in the budget speech.
But as any businessman knows, it pays to study carefully the detail of politicians’ pronouncements.
So what is George not saying?
Firstly, the UK is way, way behind in broadband, ranking at 17 out of 23 OECD nations - almost a wooden spoon.
Secondly, one fifth (yes 20%) of the adult population still have not gone online –
a cause for national shame. Of course this is the part of the population that would probably benefit most from the convenience of online shopping as well as from price comparison websites.
And thirdly, whilst the Chancellor’s aspirations are admirable, where is the timetable for his rollout? One year? Five years? Ten years? I travel a lot around the UK. Everywhere I go, people complain about broadband speeds - and in many case they do not have access to broadband at all.
Finally, what precisely does the Chancellor mean by “superfast”? Several providers have already been reprimanded for advertising one speed and providing another. Clarity is required as well as sanctions for those providers who mess up.
At a time when the UK’s economy is on the rocks, digital provides a beacon of hope for many businesses especially those in the regions. But business needs help and needs it urgently if it is to compete in the 21st Century.
South Korea represents the gold standard. In early 2011, South Korea was named the top country by government planning on broadband development in a study comparing 16 countries. Remarkably, the South Korean government plans to spend less than one per cent of its budget on its plan, intending to fill the gap by encouraging private sector investment.
So my question is simply this for George Osborne and his coalition colleagues. When will the UK achieve the same digital standard as South Korea and how will this be done?
You can watch our Case Study with David, on marketing for digital businesses, here