Broadband in Breckland
- Meeting of Overview and Scrutiny Commission, Thursday, 31st May, 2018 2.00 pm (Item 57.)
- View the background to item 57.
Report of the Executive Director for Commercialisation, Christine Marshall.
The Chairman asked if the report would resolve previous questions put forward by Councillor Newton. The Inward Investment Manager had not been made aware of those questions in advance of the report.
Councillor Newton clarified that his questions related to using an alternative technology which was using an aerial system picking up the 4G and 5G.
The Inward Investment Manager presented the report by bringing Members up to date with the Better Broadband for Norfolk (BBfN) project.
The aim of the project was to provide a download speed across Norfolk of greater than 24mega-bits per second (mbps) which was accepted as the lowest level of superfast broadband
The UK average coverage of superfast broadband was at 95.2% but was dominated by the larger urban and city areas and therefore provided a challenge to Norfolk; hence the introduction of BBfN scheme at the end of 2012. It formed part of a number of projects supported by the Government across the UK of which over £70m had been invested to date with partnerships across Norfolk County Council, BT, the Local Enterprise Partnership and District Councils across Norfolk and Suffolk.
£950,000 had been allocated by Breckland as part of the BBfN with the aim of achieving 94% coverage across Breckland by 2020. The project had currently delivered 88% coverage which was considered to be a huge success compared to only 30% coverage before the project had started.
The Inward Investment Manager provided an overview of future coverage options that were available. Norfolk County Council were considering future investment of £11m by claiming receipts from BT from the existing programme which would allow further investment across Norfolk. The intention would be to provide funding for Phase 3 programme for BBfN to further improve superfast broadband across Norfolk.
The Government were considering the introduction of a universal service so every household would be eligible to receive 10mbps however this required new legislation, so was not likely to come forward until 2020-21.
Another option for consideration could take the form of additional direct investment in alternative technologies. He explained that South Norfolk had taken the decision to invest in the alternative solution which was wireless-based.
Additional alternative technologies could involve taking fibre to the property but a community would need to fund that option. The use of 4G could also be considered but again that depended on the coverage available.
The Chairman queried the postcode checker as it was not always accurate. She was aware that whilst she had fibre to copper and could get 56mbps, others along the same street received less coverage, if at all. She was concerned about the use of wireless activity as it could become unstable when a lot of people used different networks, and lost connection easily.
She went onto question if the additional money to fund the Phase 3 programme would come from the original £950,000 that had been authorised. The Inward Investment Manager confirmed that Norfolk County Council were planning to borrow against a reward payment from the take up of those requesting super-fast broadband, it was his understanding that this was new money that would allow the Phase 3 programme to be undertaken.
Councillor Bambridge gave an example of a village that shared the village schools high speed fibre for the benefit of the community.
Councillor Kybird felt that the options in the report were not clear and would find it difficult to advise on the options given that Members did not have the technical expertise.
The Inward Investment Officer detailed the following two options:
1. The Council could take the view that whilst technology would continue to improve and the normal market would improve there could be a signal issue in rural communities with regard to broadband. As a rural district the Council must be best placed to intervene. More work was needed on the 6% of locations not covered by the existing programme; there was the need to understand where the 6% were located, what the challenges were to bring an acceptable broadband scheme, and what the Council could do to support it.
2. To get sufficient reassurance that the market be able to supply sufficient download speeds in the future. It may reach a point that everyone can download what they want and the public sector investment would not be required.
Councillor Turner asked for clarification if further investment was required in addition to the £950,000 already committed. The Inward Investment Officer advised the figures had climbed from 30% to 88% super-fast coverage today, to a projected 94% in 2020. This was a massive achievement and could not have been done without public sector investment. The remaining 6% would be costly to rectify with current technology so it was suggested the first step would be to understand the problem before considering if extra funding was required.
The Deputy Leader said that South Norfolk had invested a lesser amount to the BBfN Project, so therefore had additional capital to use for alternative solutions. The percentage of Broadband coverage was now higher across Breckland District as the programme of delivery had been calculated on the proportion of investment given at the time. He added new technologies were available but Breckland would need to provide further investment. If the Government were minded to provide a subsidy then it would be prudent for Breckland to wait before making any decision.
The Chairman informed Members that a recommendation had been put forward to the Commission but requested that the word ‘properties’ be changed to ‘postcode’. Members agreed to the change.
Members AGREED to RECOMMEND to COUNCIL that the Council undertakes work to establish the broadband speeds of Breckland properties not covered by the current BBfN programme and consider what further options may need to be investigated.