What will the current digital infrastructure strategy plans mean for local authorities?

In the recent Spring Budget, the Government announced the first steps of its strategy to invest in digital infrastructure to support the next generation of mobile and broadband technology. The Government plans to invest £16 million for 5G facilities and £200 million for full-fibre broadband. The plans will involve a collaboration between central Government, the private sector and local authorities.

Full fibre broadband

Full fibre broadband is the next generation of faster, more reliable, secure and resilient internet connection. The plans in the Budget announcement to invest in a programme of local projects reflect some of the ideas put forward in the public consultation undertaken by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in December 2016.

The public sector would act as an 'anchor' customer, creating enough demand to make it commercially viable for a network operator to invest in deploying a local fibre network. Guaranteed revenues would mean that commercial operators could consider the commercial case to build a local fibre network. The plans would also likely involve opening up public sector assets to allow fibre to be laid more cheaply, such as duct networks.

Examples of this model given in the public consultation included:

  • Peterborough City Council: In 2013 the City Council agreed a strategic partnership with CityFibre, for which it created a full fibre network. The network initially connected 107 public sites, with another 220 agreed by 2016. CityFibre has deployed over 90km of fibre infrastructure which has been made available on a wholesale basis to provide full fibre services to businesses.
  • NYnet: a wholly owned subsidiary of North Yorkshire County Council provided a local fibre network across North Yorkshire, with connections to a range of public sector sites. Investment in this approach was facilitated by its ability to make cost effective connectivity to public sector sites available.

5G strategy

5G is the next generation of mobile connectivity. It is currently in development and is  expected to be ultrafast, low latency and have increased reliability. The Government published a new 5G Strategy alongside the Spring Budget.

Local authorities are to play a key role, as the Government highlighted that they expect there to be significant challenges in finding suitable sites for 5G infrastructure, and in ensuring that the telecommunications networks meet local needs.

Local authorities' role will likely include:

  • the adoption of local planning policies setting out how high quality digital infrastructure will be delivered in their area;
  • the development of "local connectivity plans"; and
  • participation in a working group of local areas, government departments, landowners and industry.

As they have done in the current rounds of Next Generation Access broadband projects, local authorities will combine to play a key role in implementing both the 5G strategy and the full fibre broadband plans. The funding set aside for these projects is likely to provide opportunities for innovative local authorities to be at the forefront of ensuring that their area benefits both economically and socially from the next generation of broadband technology.

Ashfords have advised on a number of high speed broadband infrastructure projects, including NYnet and the Fastershire project. For further information please contact Lucy Woods.

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