Microsoft criticises U.K. government for investing in high speed rail, not broadband

Investing in infrastructure is often seen as having a valuable role in stimulating growth during times of economic stagnation. But with limited funds available, there will inevitably be disagreement over which projects should be chosen over others.

One of the largest infrastructure projects currently being proposed in the United Kingdom is a controversial expansion of the nation’s high speed rail network, but a Microsoft executive has spoken up against that investment, claiming that the funds would be put to better use by increasing spending on development of national broadband infrastructure.


Connecting cities and people - but some would prefer higher investment in broadband connections over railways

Stephen McGibbon – Microsoft’s chief technology officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) – was speaking at an eForum event in Westminster, London, this week to discuss the role of remote working in business. Computer Weekly reports that he told the forum that companies are increasingly considering “the flexibility technology is giving them and starting to view people as just a component of that.” He added: “Customers want to do things 24/7 and technology is enabling everyone to do that… Work is something you do, not somewhere you go.”

In a follow-up discussion, McGibbon went on to decry the government’s failure to invest more in technologies that better reflect how companies and employees are now approaching their work, citing spending in railway infrastructure as a short-sighted move that adheres to the ‘traditional’ way of doing things, rather than looking to the future.

“The one negative fact about the future is the current and previous governments think we need to build railways instead of broadband infrastructure and networks,” he said. The proposed High Speed 2 (HS2) railway project, which will run from London to Birmingham, and on to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds in the north of England, is expected to cost £32bn GBP ($51bn USD / €37.7bn EUR), but won’t be completed until 2033.

McGibbon openly criticised that investment: “HS2 is an example of how [government support] is not sufficient… as all it will do is move jobs into London more and reinforce this. I think it is a strategic mistake.”

The U.K. government earmarked £830m ($1.32bn / €978m) in late 2011 as part of what it described as a “strategy to make sure the U.K. has the best broadband network in Europe by 2015”. In less hyperbolic terms, it hopes to ensure that speeds of up to 25Mbps are available to 90% of the population by 2015, with all U.K. citizens having fixed-line or mobile internet access at speeds of at least 2Mbps. 

A survey of around 2200 U.K. web users, published this week by ISPreview.co.uk, found that over 67% of respondents supported more state investment in broadband infrastructure. While 32.6% did not support any additional government spending on broadband, 21.8% said they would support further investment of £2-5bn, with 19.1% advocating increased spending of £10bn or more. 

Sources: Computer Weekly / ISPreview.co.uk | Image via HS2

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