An academic study out today suggests that businesses create jobs and grow faster as a result of broadband improvements. However, the findings suggest that access to high speed internet connections may simply be the price of staying in business, rather than delivering a fundamental transformation of a local economy.
The Plymouth University study, which surveyed 88 SMEs using BT's superfast broadband in Cornwall, found that 83 percent of businesses that have been using the technology for over 12 months are saving time and money. Meanwhile, nearly half of those surveyed said that fibre broadband has helped their business generate new sales, with a quarter pointing to new overseas trade deals.
While the initial signs seem positive, only seven of the 88 businesses surveyed said that superfast broadband has helped to boost their staff numbers, with 18 new jobs created and 25 safegaurded across those firms.
However, the sample of 88 businesses reflects just 11.6 percent of the total number of businesses in Cornwall that have been connected to superfast broadband for over 12 months. Lead researcher Adrian Dawson said the true number of jobs created and safeguarded in Cornwall as a result of superfast broadband is likely to be around 767 and 1390 respectively, when all businesses in the area are taken into account.
"The evidence does suggest that super fast is genuinely creating and safeguarding jobs," said Dawson at BT's headquarters in London today, before conceding that the figures in the study may be slightly inflated by the fact that the businesses surveyed are the very early adopters who needed the technology the most and are therefore the ones likely to get the most benefit from it.
BT argues that Cornwall is now one of the best connected areas in Britain and the best connected rural region in Europe, with 206,000 homes and businesses, or 82 percent of the region, now covered by the technology. Superfast broadband is expected to reach 95 per cent of homes and businesses in Cornwall by the end of 2014.
Fibre connectivity delivers connections of up to 300Mbps to areas where businesses were previously running on speeds as low as 500Kbps.
SMEs at the event said their previous broadband connections were hampering their productivity levels. They claimed that superfast broadband allows them to conduct video conferences over programs such as Skype and introduce cloud services to the business for hosting, back-up, storage and extra processing power.
"I think this is Cornwall's HS2," claimed Graham Smith, CEO of Instructus Markets who aim to educate graduates and trainees entering the financial services industry. "We don't have population density to warrant investment in hardware that will get people to Truro 20 minutes earlier than they would otherwise but this opens a whole new world for us. The critical challenge is how we choose to exploit this tech and we will need help with this."
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