Agenda item

Broadband Infrastructure


The Director of Economic Growth and Neighbourhood Services submitted a report (previously circulated) providing an update on past and future Broadband infrastructure roll out in the Borough and detailing other projects enhancing speed for digital use.  A PowerPoint Presentation given by the Economic Strategy and Intelligence Manager of Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) accompanied the submitted report.


The submitted report stated that TVCA and Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) had committed funding for two phases of public sector funded Broadband infrastructure rollout programmes for the Borough with Digital Durham managing delivery of two Phases of the BDUK programme via Openreach in County Durham, Gateshead, Sunderland, North and South Tyneside and the five Tees Valley Local Authorities including Darlington Borough Council.


Members were informed that Phase 1 of the BDUK Programme had been delivered in the Town Centre and Central Park Enterprise Zone together with rural cabinets around Piercebridge, Merrybent, High and Low Coniscliffe, Hurworth Place and Bishopton resulting in a 93.5 per cent Borough coverage.


In 2017 Tees Valley Combined Authority took over responsibility for the management of Phase 2 of the roll out of Broadband.  Following consultation with the Local Authorities a revised Phase 2 contract was negotiated which set a target of coverage of at least 98.1% coverage of premises in each of the 5 Local Authorities up to a maximum budget of £2.5m.  The revised Phase 2 necessitated a change request with Digital Durham, for which it was able to largely subsume existing contracts in Stockton, Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland, but had to develop new plans for Darlington and Hartlepool.


It was also reported that TVCA aimed to apply for Government programmes such as the Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) (based on full fibre solutions) which would offer new infrastructure provision for speeds up to 1 gigabit per sec level which would enable 5G solutions.


The report outlined the future needs for Superfast Coverage in Darlington through Phase 3 (2020 onwards) although stated that Darlington’s Rural Areas to the West (Killerby, Summerhouse, Denton and Walworth Gate) and North East (Great Stainton and Barmpton) would be left uncovered by Fibre based solutions for Broadband.


It was stated that those areas which have not been covered by Phase 2 of the programme were eligible to bid through the Better Broadband Scheme administered by Digital Durham for grants in the form of a voucher (up to £350 for hardware and installation) for mobile or satellite broadband connection with Superfast speeds.


Consideration is also being given to working with the Neighbouring North Yorkshire Programme (NYNET) to cover the rural areas in the next Phase 3 (2020 onwards) due to the closeness of its fibre network to both Darlington and the Tees Valley and its considerable rural delivery experience.


Particular references were made to the future proofing considerations for the Tees Valley and Darlington as digital enhancements and technology are not standing still.  Ambitions for economic growth are underpinned by digital speeds and the Tees Valley Combined Authority, including Darlington, aims to stay ahead in the digital speed race. In order to market the Tees Valley as a region for investment digital speeds have become a locational factor to attract investment into the region.  The TVCA has subsequently earmarked Government programmes like Gigabit Vouchers for businesses, the 5G Testbed and Trial programme and the Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) programme for up to 1gb/sec 5G technology.  Applications for these programmes are being considered which would enhance Darlington’s position in connectivity speed further in the future.


Discussion ensued on the timescale involved to provide broadband to the TVCA areas; the pros and cons of Fibre to the Cabinet and Fibre to the Home broadband; Darlington’s change request to BT being subject to the deliberations of Central Government and BT due to the economic life of Fibre to the Cabinet which would need to be replaced after eight to ten years; rural areas to be provided having a certain amount of ambiguity until site investigations have been undertaken; the programme operating where there is not an existing provision; and the need to ascertain from BT where broadband provision was and whether or not it was value for money.


Concerns were expressed that nationally broadband provision was lacking compared to international employers and there was a need to future proof commercial and residential broadband provision for the region.  It was stated that full fibre would ensure 5G; Phase 3 would use legacy funding and provide 100 per cent coverage; and that full fibre would ensure that any provider could deliver broadband leading to increased productivity and increased premises.


RESOLVED – (a) That the thanks of this Scrutiny Committee be extended to the Economic Strategy and Intelligence Manager of Tees Valley Combined Authority for his informative and interesting presentation.


(b) That the current position on Phase 1 of the Broadband Delivery UK Programme be noted.


(c) That the future aspirations of the Tees Valley Combined Authority regarding Local Full Fibre Network be noted.


(d) That an update on broadband provision be provided in six months’ time.


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