An update on the delivery of broadband infrastructure under the Fastershire Broadband Programme. The presentation to include an outline of the revision of the current Broadband Strategy to cover the period 2019 – 2022.
Matt Smith, Operational Manager for the Fastershire Broadband Project, gave a detailed update on the progress of the inter-authority agreement between Gloucestershire County Council and Herefordshire Council for the deployment of superfast broadband across the two counties. The agreement was made in 2011.
Please refer to the attached document to view the power-point presentation for this item.
Members noted the success of the project, including receiving an award for having the greatest public sector impact at a recent conference. Through its work with BT and Gigaclear, plus a host of other smaller providers, it was confirmed that the Fastershire project had been successful in extending superfast broadband access to 94.6% of premises in Gloucestershire. Moreover, Fastershire had been acknowledged as being at the forefront of the new full fibre revolution, with each rural district in the county placed within the top 20 rural areas with such access. Noting the data making comparisons
It was confirmed extensive work would be ongoing, moving east to west across the county, and building on the success of the Cotswold District being accredited as an area with the fastest average download speed of anywhere in the UK. Detailed information was provided on the work due to be completed in 2020/21.
Noting concerns about those areas of the county where download speeds were not as fast as would have been hoped, members were assured that the desired level of access was anticipated to spread across the whole of the county over the course of the next two years. It was confirmed that plans were already in place to address issues affecting the Forest of the Dean. It was confirmed that, over the course of the next few months, a ‘glut’ of properties across Gloucestershire were about to ‘go live’ with Superfast Broadband.
Drawing attention to the Fastershire Broadband Strategy 2019-22 and the next stages of deployment, officers advised members that 2019-22 was anticipated to be an important period for the project. During this time, it was likely the two counties would be recognised as the most digitally connected areas in the UK. It was hoped this achievement would promote more economic growth and unlock the potential for attracting new investment to the County.
The Fastershire Broadband Strategy 2019-22 makes reference to a new vision statement, detailing the ambition to ‘enable all residents and businesses in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire to access the connectivity they need and to encourage people to use faster broadband to work online; boost business growth and achieve potential’. Stage 5 of the new strategy to promote opportunities via Business Support Grants and following introduction of a new Community Scheme, offering direct grants to local communities to invest in broadband solutions.
The Fastershire Broadband Strategy includes the following objectives: -
Coverage – to continue to increase superfast broadband coverage across two counties through a mixture of contracts and grants;
Inclusion – to support residents and businesses to make the most of the broadband network through skills training, awareness raising and enabling community led schemes;
Innovation – to continuously drive innovation in addressing the ambitions of broadband coverage in working with partners, funders, suppliers and the community;
Monitoring – to ensure the maximum results from the work of suppliers by monitoring the contracts and driving value for money in deployments;
Partnerships – to productively work with suppliers, parish and town councils on effective communications, with local authority departments to co-ordinate the approach to deployment, and local planning authorities to ensure new premises have broadband connectivity.
It was explained that, endorsement of the new strategy would enable officers to influence commercial investment to the county and offer additional procurement opportunities to deliver superfast broadband to those areas yet to be enabled.
In noting the update, the committee suggested that the challenges of delivering wider digital connectivity might be a useful topic for the Senior Officer Group to consider as a future piece of work. Action by – Senior Officer Group.
Noting the forthcoming consultation by Gloucestershire County Council on the production of a ‘Local Developer Guide’, it was suggested that another piece of work be considered, relating to the ‘role of the Joint Committee when looking at local planning regulations’.
Earlier in the meeting, a member had requested information on the ranking of areas, (primarily rural areas), who continued to experience poor levels of broadband delivery. It was agreed pie charts would be provided to relay this information, and that comparisons be made to compare broadband delivery in areas similar to Gloucestershire. Action by – Fastershire Broadband.
Members were reminded that at the Economic Growth Scrutiny Committee meeting being held at 1.30pm that day, the committee would receive a presentation from Mobile UK, (the trade body for mobile network operators), on the current UK mobile market and future connectivity plans.
The committee thanked Matt Smith for his presentation and noted the advice that members visit the Fastershire webpage at https://www.fastershire.com/ to
receive more information on broadband delivery in Gloucestershire.