‘Gigabit city’ plan could boost Edinburgh by £200m

93-mile network of ultrafast broadband tipped to attract businesses and tourists. Picture: EN
93-mile network of ultrafast broadband tipped to attract businesses and tourists. Picture: EN
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PLANS to bring ultrafast broadband to Edinburgh could boost the city’s economy by more than £200 million a year, analysis of comparable projects in the US has shown.

The first phase of a scheme that will eventually create a 93-mile gigabit fibre network is set to begin construction this summer, under a partnership between Edinburgh-based Commsworld and listed network specialist CityFibre.

Commsworld chief executive Ricky Nicol told Scotland on Sunday that other “gigabit cities” such as Seoul and Stockholm have seen a 1 per cent increase in their GDP, linked to faster connection speeds on offer, “because it attracts business and tourism”.

Nicol added: “This project will put Edinburgh on the same platform as other cities that are offering real connectivity and digital inclusion across the board.”

His comments echo a recent study by financial consultant Analysis Group, which found that metropolitan areas in the US enjoy an increase in GDP of about 1.1 per cent after gaining access to gigabit broadband.

It highlighted reports that the city of Chattanooga in Tennessee had gained 1,000 new jobs and “increased investment and a new population of computer programmers, entrepreneurs and investors” following the introduction of superfast connection speeds.

An Analysis Group spokesman said: “These results ­suggest that the 14 gigabit broadband communities in our study enjoyed approximately $1.4 billion in additional GDP when gigabit broadband ­became widely available.”

Figures published earlier this year by the Brookings Institution, a US think-tank, show that Edinburgh’s GDP was about £21.3bn in 2014.

Under the initial phase of the project to bring superfast broadband to the Scottish capital, Commsworld and City­Fibre will deploy 31 miles of fibre network to bring gigabit speeds – up to 100 times faster than the UK average – to more than 7,000 businesses. Nicol said: “Demand for data connectivity is going to keep growing, so what’s needed is fast bandwidth that’s not based on copper. This scheme is going to help bring innovation and competition into the city.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the plans, announced last week, “will make a key contribution to our vision of Scotland having world class digital connectivity by 2020”.

Aim-quoted CityFibre, which is scheduled to post its annual results on 23 March, said in September that it would be bringing an ultrafast network to Aberdeen, having already launched similar projects in Coventry, Peterborough and York, but Edinburgh will be its largest gigabit city investment.

The overall value of the scheme has not been disclosed. However, Nicol said Commsworld – which has about 50 staff across Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow – would be investing a “seven-figure” sum in the programme.

Frank Ross, convener of the economy committee at City of Edinburgh Council, said: “This level of commercial investment to improve the city’s connectivity is great news for Edinburgh, and fits well with our aspiration that it becomes one of the super-connected cities in the UK. The fact that Commsworld is a leading Scottish telecoms company and an Edinburgh SME makes this even more exciting for our business community.”

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