Olivia Garfield, CEO of Openreach, said superfast fibre broadband can put Yorkshire at the front of the economic recovery and will make the UK “a much stronger nation”.
BT is investing £2.5bn to take fibre-based connectivity to two-thirds of Britain by the end of 2014. Parts of the country already connected are reversing economic decline, said Ms Garfield.
Speaking at the event, internet entrepreneur Lee Strafford said superfast broadband coupled with cloud computing gives Yorkshire the opportunity to be the most innovative region in Britain.
“The future of this country is down to SMEs leveraging fibre and the cloud,” he said. Cloud computing allows users to access resources at a fraction of the cost.
“Innovation is the UK’s opportunity. Innovation is enabled by fibre and the cloud,” said Mr Strafford, the co-founder of Plusnet and a board member of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership.
Ms Garfield, who comes from Harrogate, told the Business Club audience of directors and advisers that the UK is now second in the G8 group of countries in the number of households with access to superfast broadband, behind only Japan.
In Europe, the UK is ahead of rivals France, Germany, Spain and Italy in the percentage of population covered, she added.
Ms Garfield said: “I think that there’s an immense amount of pride that we should all be taking in how we are rolling out fibre.
“We are doing it three times as quick as any other nation has done it.”
She added that BT is connecting more than 16,000 households a week. Ms Garfield said the investment will put the UK “far, far above” any other equivalent-sized nation, which will give the country “a natural advantage” in competing for international investment.
Benefits include giving talented people access to the latest technologies wherever they are, rather than just city centres, she said. “Our fiscal recovery has to be generated across the entire nation,” she added. Businesses benefit by being able to improve performance through quicker processes, better access to knowledge and increased productivity, said Ms Garfield.
She said fibre areas experienced an annual rise of 0.3-0.5 per cent in GVA, a key economic measure. “Most areas’ GVA decline consistently through recession. This is a massive deal for most parts of the country,” she added. In Yorkshire, more than one million homes and businesses are able to connect to the fibre network. Ms Garfield said Yorkshire is “leading the way” after North Yorkshire became the first county to deploy fibre broadband with a new government fund. BT won the contract.
Ms Garfield said BT will bid to win the Connected Cities contract to deliver free high-speed internet access to parts of Leeds and Bradford.
She added: “I watch my friends and family who have struggled throughout the recession and I know for many of them it would have been easier for them if they had options and fibre brings options.
“That’s all you can do in a recession – provide options and hope that people will seize them.”
The Business Club, a forum for topical debate, also heard from Daniel Rajkumar, the 31-year-old internet entrepreneur behind Rebuilding Society, a new crowdfunding platform to link savers and investors with SMEs hungry for finance. He said: “It looks set to help give good opportunity for economic prosperity to be stimulated in the region.”
Leeds Metropolitan University presented research on Yorkshire’s top 250 companies.