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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Nobody is as stupid as Australia by voting in a Abbott gov and spending less on a downsized model similar to the UK, Australia is bigger so I don't see the gov doing it within budget

and Cameron's High Speed Train will be stopped by some wet leaves, possibly even a dead sheep or two. May as well have the broadband instead !

It costs more than £60 000 per meter. Better name for this project would be "The Great Train Robbery". This is the perfect example of how private companies, with help of corrupt politicians, steal taxpayers money.

Microsoft, unfortunately for you people care about their rail networks in Europe (U.K) unlike USA who doesn't give a single **** about it. Rail system in USA is pathetic so is broadband in many places.

Every council in the UK has been given millions to spend on the countries broadband infrastructure. There's even smaller grants available for more rural communities to set up their own broadband connection. The situation is really only bad bad in rural areas in a few places.

I went from perfect broadband with Virgin Media in London, to absolutely horrific internet connections in the rural Scottish Highlands and i'm a web developer! I've done a fair bit of reading up and phoning around and it's clear the money is there to get this infrastructure in place. It's not been quick and it should have been in place all ready but i guess better late than never right? Right?

I think the issue is that both communication and transportation needed proper investment and money just doesn't grow on trees. If anything, the mobile network also needs deep investment.

theyarecomingforyou said,
The government is investing in broadband, so I think Microsoft's criticism here is seriously misguided.

Yeah, they invested £830m in broadband... They invested 39 times more on HS2, which is of less use than investing in broadband now, let alone by the time its finished in 2033.

j2006 said,
If you knew the broadband situation there, it's not as invested into broadband as much as it should be.

I live in a small town in Cornwall yet have a 40Mbps internet connection. My previous property had a 100Mbps internet connection. More investment is needed for rural areas but most built-up areas have decent internet speeds.

M4x1mus said,
Yeah, they invested £830m in broadband... They invested 39 times more on HS2, which is of less use than investing in broadband now, let alone by the time its finished in 2033.

Such comparisons are meaningless. The UK is ranked 12th in the world for internet connection speed and is ahead of most European countries, so while there is certainly room for improvement the situation isn't as bad as is being made out.

Both Internet and Rail links are important, just as much as road.

Its just that railways were axed years ago, privatised, under funded and turned into utter **** by all previous governments.

The Motorway plans were never fully seen to completion and still suffering as a result.

See a trend here? Long story short is that no Government is this country is going to get it right, and never properly invest in the countries infrastructure. HS2 will probably go ahead, get funding cut halfway through, end up a botched shadow of its vision and then have which ever bloody party crow over how they completed it and stopped the drain of money is cost.

*rage table flip*

This is exactly what I've been saying, to spend all that money to save people one hour a day when the future is less commuting and more globalisation.

This should have been done 20-30 years ago when the rest of the world was investing in fast railway.

Oh lord.

MS (And American company) criticizes US government for .... (the list is long, way way way long).

Brony said,
Oh lord.

MS (And American company) criticizes US government for .... (the list is long, way way way long).

Oh lord. Firstly MS is a global company, secondly they are criticising the UK government.

It is nothing new large companies criticising and advising governments.

Honestly its a total waste of money! And a lot of money at that!

Only for the English (sorry im not being a racist scotsman) but what`s the point when it doesn`t even cross the border?

The Cons can shuff this and there fracking up there fracking bum holes!!

The UK's rail network is woefully inadequate and an embarrassment when compared to other western nations. It is in desperate need of investment and while this programme is expensive that doesn't mean it is a "waste" of money. However, you are right that it should have a much broader reach - there is no reason it shouldn't extend to Cornwall, South Wales and Scotland. The current scope is far too limited and London-centric.

theyarecomingforyou said,
The UK's rail network is woefully inadequate and an embarrassment when compared to other western nations. It is in desperate need of investment and while this programme is expensive that doesn't mean it is a "waste" of money. However, you are right that it should have a much broader reach - there is no reason it shouldn't extend to Cornwall, South Wales and Scotland. The current scope is far too limited and London-centric.

You be right if it was 30 years ago, but we should accept the fact that we failed at a rail network and become one of the world's best broadband.

Hundred years ago we were at the centre of the world for communication we lost that due to no investment. It is too late for the railways.

Put in the broadband issue aside this just create more jobs in London and moving people to them as opposed to investing in jobs in the Midlands where it is needed more.

More help for the rich and not the everyday person that wouldn't be commuting anyway.

stevember said,
You be right if it was 30 years ago, but we should accept the fact that we failed at a rail network and become one of the world's best broadband.

It's not too late but the inevitable consequence of decades of underinvestment is that projects like HS2 will be expensive; we shouldn't simply give up because of mistakes made in the past. However, we also need to invest in broadband because, as you say, it is a way to benefit the entire economy rather than the London-centric focus of HS2 as it currently stands.

The biggest issue I have with HS2 is that it is too limited in scope. I'd rather the project was much more expensive but provided coverage to most of the UK, especially the South West, South Wales and Scotland.

As far as Im aware the UK rail network is a mess, ,with ghost trains and lines that extend to pointless places, loop over each other needlessly and so on.

Id rather see less spent on HS2, or in fact it scrapped and money spent somehow cleaning up said rail network and cut all this needless bs spending on things such as "ghost" services and maintaining useless old lines and such.

Id rather see investment in railnetworks spent so that the whole country benefits equally, not just so that business to the North East has its logistics met 20yrs from now.

Then use left over cash to invest in broadband services.

Basically theyarecomingforyou I agree with you.

StandingInAlley said,
Dear MS,
People need high speed rail to commute and make a living which in turn will allow them to spend time and money on a broadband

Dear "StandingInAlley",
People need high speed broadband to work from home and make a living thereby removing the need to commute whatsoever, reducing pollution and the need for public transport.

A better internet infrastructure allows for more people to telecommute. Not everyone can telecommute obviously but with more and more jobs it is becoming possible and the impact to the environment from less physical commuting is a good thing. I agree with Microsoft on this. I personally think HS2 is an incredibly expensive solution to a problem that is becoming smaller and smaller every year. By the time HS2 is complete who knows how office workers will work. I have always felt that HS2 is a solution to *todays* problems but not available for 20 years! Its expected completion date is 2032 however with the way all government projects like this work we know it won't be done until 2040 at the earliest and be at least double the expected £80 billion that it is currently forecast to cost!

funkydude said,

Dear "StandingInAlley",
People need high speed broadband to work from home and make a living thereby removing the need to commute whatsoever, reducing pollution and the need for public transport.

I wish, however the main problem is a cultural one. Most employees are unable to self management.

Brony said,

I wish, however the main problem is a cultural one. Most employees are unable to self management.

You don't need them too with good performance metrics. If they consistently can't make their numbers then you find someone else.

UK broadband penetration is sufficient enough already for any cultural-shift to have established; that there are so many millions commuting each day is proof that tele-commuting is a bit of a technologist's fantasy.

I can do it - my 'colleague' does it semi-permanently. He is the one with no profile tho - no-one knows what he does. The UK-style management hierarchy doesn't bridge the geographical & cultural gap easily. Ironically, their enthusiasm for offshoring-everything borders on fanatical...

StandingInAlley said,
Dear MS,
People need high speed rail to commute and make a living which in turn will allow them to spend time and money on a broadband

Guess you didn't read the article then?

Mugwump00 said,
UK broadband penetration is sufficient enough already for any cultural-shift to have established; that there are so many millions commuting each day is proof that tele-commuting is a bit of a technologist's fantasy.

It could also be a generational change. Over the next couple decades, people that never knew a time without the Internet will be moving into management roles.

Brony said,
I wish, however the main problem is a cultural one. Most employees are unable to self management.

Is disagree, if the employees aren't self motivated you tend to find that most of the time it is due to bad management and their inability to communicate goals to the staff. I'll assure you the biggest problem isn't the so-called 'unmotivated employee' but the self appointed Napoleon of the office floor that needs a physical office to keep their job position relevant - it is about certain people protecting their own interests.

I would love to work from home, but it is only a small portion of workers that can actually do so.
As someone who works in the Aged Care industry in Australia, I can tell you that for the 150,000 employees nationwide (as of 2012), a faster broadband network would not help us get to work, or perform our job any better. A virtual world is not feasible and actual infrastructure projects like high speed rail should be focused on.

We have the opposite problem. We have a high speed broadband network (NBN) rolling out now which is great, but have not had any major new rail projects for decades.

This is so often so true, but there are collaborative benefits to office-life too?

It's border-line sometimes, but I don't think Neowin forums being my only workday conversational outlet would be healthy, in the long-term....