Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Will Broadband make Cornwall a Contact Centre hotspot?

A very interesting article in The Times earlier this week looked at the prospects of high-speed broadband coming to Cornwall.

The plan is that Cornwall, historically one of the remoter areas of England, will receive ultra-fast broadband giving users speeds of between 100 megabits per second and one gigabit per second, making it one of the fastest internet connection areas in the country. The figures to support this are that it will create 4,000 jobs and £250m for the Cornish economy.

Fortunately for Cornwall, this plan does not rely on the UK Government's proposed 50p broadband levy (which the BBC says is scrapped until after the election), but rather on European Union development funds.

The Times article focuses on the benefits this high-speed broadband will bring to 'sexy' industries like digital animation, but I rather think this misses the point and sets Cornwall up for failure. Animation and creative media are growth industries and Cornwall is lovely place, but many of these dynamic, rapidly changing companies will be employing outsiders rather than locals and keeping their head offices in London, especially the media-centric areas around Soho. These companies will put money into the local economy, but they won't necessarily create many jobs for local people. Instead, I suspect that it's industries like customer service that could make the most difference.

It is often not appreciated how dependent the contact centre industry is on bandwidth. It's obvious that you need bandwidth for the volume of voice calls, but less obvious that you need vast amounts of bandwidth for the data that needs to accompany those voice calls so that you can do something useful with them. This is occasionally highlighted by outages (see my past post "Onshore, Offshore & Internet Resiliency" for when a break in sub-sea cabling caused major problems for offshore Indian contact centres) but otherwise not always visible. To a certain extent, the policy of 'build it and they will come' has worked well in other areas. A few weeks ago the Economist ran an excellent article entitled "Fibre in Paradise" looking at the impact optic fibre has had on Bristol, Virgina. The key point for contact centre was,

"...and the fibre brought jobs. In 2007 both Northrop Grumman, a big American defence contractor, and CGI, an international IT consultancy, said they would hire between them 700 technicians, consultants and call-operators at offices in nearby Lebanon, Virginia, part of BVU’s [Bristol Virginia Utilities] fibre backbone. Both cited the area’s universities and low cost of living, but neither would have come without BVU’s investment, which Northrop calls absolutely critical."

It's far from guaranteed, but the likelihood is that if Cornwall wants to create local jobs and boost its economy then building broadband is essential and attracting call centres and back office operations is where they should focus.

No comments: