Speech

Annual Parliament and Internet Conference

Minister of State for Digital and Culture addresses the Annual Parliament and Internet Conference

Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock

We want the UK to be the best and safest place in the world to do digital business.

The economic benefits should be obvious. Last year, the digital sector added £118 billion to the economy, with 1.4 million jobs - and it continues to grow.

But as well as that, digital drives social change. It is a powerful democratising force. It opens up opportunities and experiences that might previously have passed people by, and delivers them directly to their homes - to the phones they hold in their hand.

This Government wants, as a priority, a society that works for everybody, not only a privileged few. A thriving digital sector, easily accessed by all.

That needs three things that I want to briefly set out today.

First, we need the right infrastructure.

That means ubiquitous coverage, so no one is left out, and with sufficient capacity not only for today’s needs but in readiness for future change and demand.

We are making good progress.

In the UK today, superfast broadband - measured at 24Mbps - is available to 91 per cent of homes and businesses, and is on course to reach 95 per cent at least by the end of next year. We rank first among the big European states and are top five on the Global Connectivity Index.

But in the push to drive out superfast part-fibre broadband we have not made progress on full fibre, which is currently supplied to only 2 per cent of premises. And make no mistake, the future is fibre. Rollout is happening all over the world and take-up is high. We are determined to see a full fibre future in Britain.

So, now we’re close to delivering on universal 4G and the superfast plan, that is where I want our focus to turn. To make sure we always stay those crucial few steps ahead. We must start work now on supplying ubiquitous 5G and fibre in the decade ahead.

Second, all this good work will be ultimately redundant if people lack the necessary digital skills. Shockingly, research shows, more than five million adults in the UK don’t even have the basic knowledge to get them online. And that is holding them back in an increasingly digitised world. When staying informed, when applying for jobs, when simply tracking down a welcome bargain.

So we are making training in basic digital skills free to any adults in England who need them, regardless of age or background. And we are launching initiatives - I’ll come back to them shortly - to keep the specialised workforce up to date with the high level digital skills required to compete in the modern market.

Third, alongside infrastructure and skills, once people are online, they need to feel safe.

And yet one in four UK businesses reported a cyber breach or attack in the past year. These attacks filter down to their customers who in turn can be vulnerable to identity theft or fraud.

So we have made cyber security a top priority and are investing £1.9 billion to protect the UK online. As well as pushing our Cyber Essentials scheme - which provides the most basic steps businesses should take to protect against common attacks - we have opened a new National Cyber Security Centre. And the Cyber Growth Partnership, a joint initiative between industry and Government, is launching two new Innovation Centres, where start-up firms can base themselves in their crucial early months, to get the best available support and advice.

Safety also means the freedom to explore the Internet without the worry of stumbling on potentially harmful material.

Let’s be clear. I love the freedom of the internet, but freedom exists in a framework. It is Government’s responsibility to protect children.

Alongside industry, we’ve taken action on child porn.The four major Internet Service Providers - who constitute an estimated 90 per cent of the UK’s broadband market - have delivered on their commitment for family friendly filters to all their customers.

We expect social media companies to have robust processes in place to tackle inappropriate and abusive content on their sites, with clear reporting channels acting promptly to assess reports and remove unacceptable content.

The Digital Economy Bill, currently at Committee Stage in the House of Commons will stop online pornography without age verification controls.

Safeguards like these help protect people from harm, and in so doing strengthen the freedom the web so spectacularly provides.

If we pay attention to all these measures - on infrastructure, on skills training, on security - we will achieve our goal of a digital economy that works for everyone, with ease of access and ubiquitous coverage, where citizens and businesses feel competent and secure to make the most of the growing opportunities it offers.

The technological revolution we are living through brings with it great change. We must rise to the challenge to play our part in seizing the opportunities it brings for the benefit of all mankind.

Published 27 October 2016