The UK government is finally recognising the need for an accelerated pure fibre broadband roll-out, with a much greater emphasis on driving competition within the industry.
Evidenced by Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s announcement of Westminster’s new Digital Infrastructure Fund in November’s autumn statement, this welcome plan will provide £400 million public investment matched by the private sector.
This forms part of a much bigger conversation about the role the public sector should play in digital infrastructure investment as well as the need for greater collaboration with providers.
Progress is clearly being made, with the Financial Times recently commenting on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s call for evidence on how public sector organisations can act as “demand aggregators” for wider fibre broadband roll out. These “anchor customers” help to bring new infrastructure development to regions currently under-served or suffering from an over-dependence on ageing copper connections.
In Scotland, this is already happening. By creating demand for new networks through IT infrastructure procurement programmes, organisations with large geographical footprints like city councils are becoming anchor tenants for developers like CityFibre, making investment such as city-wide ultra-fast fibre networks commercially feasible. This in turn creates the platform for Mobile 4G and 5G investment and supports businesses, universities, and potentially, Fibre To The Home projects.
At present, the 150km network in Edinburgh is accessible to over 7,000 businesses and organisations, as well as schools, public WiFi and other public services. Demand from the council has catalysed Edinburgh’s Gigabit City build, which now spans most of the city. This has allowed for increased access for smaller independent businesses, which are now enjoying ultra-fast connectivity. The Scottish capital can now count itself as being amongst the most digitally connected cities in Europe.
Stirling recently became Scotland’s newest Gigabit City, thanks to a partnership with Stirling Council. As the council network progresses and becomes available to business customers, we expect the historic city to experience substantial economic benefits.
Our gigabit networks evidence how “demand aggregators” can influence an entire community’s access to fibre-optic broadband, and how these “anchor customers” can act as enablers for growth and innovation.
Scotland is fast becoming one of the most connected, digitally progressive countries in the world and our digital capabilities as a country need to meet the demands of this growth and innovation.
To do so, we need to accelerate the roll-out of brand new, gigabit infrastructure to welcome all areas of our communities into the new digital age.
James McClafferty, head of regional development Scotland, CityFibre