The North East must close its digital connectivity gaps

Digital connectivity is an essential asset for businesses and a profound catalyst of social and economic change.

Luke Raikes is Researcher at IPPR North

In the North East, as in the rest of the world, digital connectivity is both an essential asset for businesses and a profound catalyst of social and economic change.

Whether it’s the superfast broadband fibre being laid in the ground across the region, or the Wi-Fi signals transmitting through the air in homes, workplaces, and public spaces – digital connectivity has gone from desirable to decisive in a few short decades.

Digital connectivity can drive productivity and innovation as well as lower start-up costs for new businesses.

New IPPR North research found the new availability of superfast broadband is also of more use to some than others.

It’s of more use to a small business looking to level the playing field, than a big business which has long enjoyed these speeds; more use to a company which delivers ‘weightless’ products digitally than to one which produces machinery or equipment; and more use to an international businesses conference-calling across the globe than to a small local company with business partners and employees close by.

It is also clear however that despite the substantial benefits of digital connectivity many businesses are either lacking the connectivity they need, or are failing to fully exploit its potential.

There is a stark contrast between some ‘high-web’ businesses – which are pushing suppliers for faster connections, in industries which not only benefit from digital connectivity but would not exist without it – and the many lagging ‘no-web’ businesses, some of which don’t use the internet at all.

The availability of digital connectivity should be an essential ask for all businesses at this stage in the 21st century. That’s why in IPPR North’s new report – Faraway So Close – we’re recommending that the region taps into the skills of young, highly capable graduates from the North East’s universities, and that business organisations promote the benefits of uptake amongst their members.

However digital connectivity doesn’t sit alone: it can substitute for and complement other forms of travel, and must be made available in public places – especially transport hubs – to make the region more productive and attractive to indigenous businesses and inward investors.

For a region like the North East, in many ways geographically isolated, the advantage of digital technology is not only unique but unrivalled, and needs to be exploited to the full.

The digital divide (click to zoom)

North East digital

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