Although Internet access has long been ridiculed as a first world problem new research from Which? has shown broadband is now considered as important as running water and a dry place to sleep in the UK.
Older generations might scoff at the comparison but it is a statement as to how critical access to the internet has become to ensure society functions smoothly. In fact, 90% of respondents to the Which? survey believe the internet is critical to their everyday life with only essentials such as food, housing and utilities like water and energy ranking higher.
In years gone, the statement ‘I can’t access the internet’ might be met with knowing looks and the response ‘you’ll have to wait until later to watch that kitten video then’ but how things have changed. News is now primarily delivered online, most people manage their finances through the web, email and chat apps supersede communication over the phone and for some work is impossible without the internet.
For those who are waiting for the arrival of the connected economy, research like this may indicate it’s already here. A lack of internet connectivity is no longer a first-world-problem; for many of us it dictates our day and basic ability to function.
Some may frown upon this dependence saying it’s to the detriment of society, but you only have to look at the opportunities created to see the positives. Entrepreneurs can compete with big business and make meaningful disruptions to traditional businesses because of the influence of the internet.
Brands like Deliveroo, SkyScanner, AirBnB, Netflix, the Huffington Post and Amazon only exist and have made our lives easier because of the internet. If not for the internet we’d still be walking to collect our takeaway, probably be overpaying for flights, holidays would be limited to package deals, traditional content providers would be running riot, media would still be an ‘elitist’ industry and Christmas shopping would still be a never ending nightmare.
“This research underlines again just how important broadband is to our everyday lives,” said Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home and Legal Services. “Yet many of us are still experiencing persistent service interruptions and a large proportion of the population can’t access usable speeds to carry out the most basic tasks.”
The proportion of people who thought that broadband was essential (90%) was higher than it was for having a mobile phone (74%), a TV (73%) or running a car (68%). More also considered broadband an essential than they did savings (70%) and pension contributions (53%). The survey also revealed 30% were getting download speeds below 10 mbps, and 68% had experienced a problem with their broadband in the last 12 months.
“The UK broadband market is very competitive and Ofcom statistics show speeds and quality are improving year-on-year,” said James Blessing, Chair of the Internet Services Providers’ Association. “However, we recognise that more can always be done to improve services, which is why billions are being invested in our broadband infrastructure from a wide and growing range of providers across the UK.”
While government targets in the Digital Economy Bill are set at universal download speeds of 10 mbps, there are still elements of the industry which are in debate. The ‘up to’ claim from broadband providers in advertising is one which is continuing to irritate consumer groups and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), with some arguing it is intentionally misleading as only 10% of customers are required to experience these speeds for the claim to be made.
So yes, access to the internet runs our day-to-day lives, but not in the manner that some veteran commentators may assume. We understand you had to walk 5 miles in the snow with no shoes on to get to school and frankly we don’t care that much. The internet is no longer a first-world-problem; it runs our day-to-day lives and we’re okay with that.