Wide-ranging plans by the Council to improve broadband across the area to support new homes, new jobs, and better connect rural areas to the Internet have been announced.
Building upon the area’s strength as a hotbed of technological activity and innovation, the revolutionised local broadband network of the future will support the aim of growing the value of the local economy by £1 billion by 2029 and increasing creative industry/ ICT employment by 20%.
The key developments that are either taking place or are being explored are:
- Providing 9 out of 10 premises across the area access to high speed fibre broadband – and for all premises to have at least 2 mbps broadband – by the end of 2016 through the Connecting Devon and Somerset consortium. This development is currently on-time;
- Opening-up the 22 kilometres or so of fibre network owned by the Council to encourage inward investment by ultrafast broadband companies (e.g. 300Mbps upwards) who would offer their services to hi-tech business areas, such as those who will be present in the planned Enterprise Area;
- Working with the private sector to roll-out Wi-Fi, 4G, and 3G technologies to shopping centres, sports venues, and transport infrastructure – particularly in those areas where the Council owns assets, like street furniture and lamp posts, upon which infrastructure could be placed;
- Promoting greater local innovation across creative, micro-electronics and high tech manufacturing sectors through a mesh testbed. In other words, an online private network that enables hi-tech businesses and Universities to push the boundaries of their research and development;
- Understanding how the planning system could be used to encourage developers to ensure that future homes are high-speed broadband ready.
Councillor Ben Stevens (Lib-Dem, Widcombe), Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, said: “It is crucial that communities across the Bath & North East Somerset Council area have the best possible broadband speeds. If our area is to build upon its reputation as a hot spot for digital and hi-tech industries, we must have the broadband infrastructure to match our ambition to attract new investment and new jobs with great opportunities for local people.
“Potential investors and businesses looking to relocate here in places like the emerging Bath Enterprise Area will instantly look at broadband connectivity and turn their attentions elsewhere if they detect a lack of ambition. The project to bring high speed fibre broadband to nine out of ten premises is on time to be completed by the end of 2016. But the Council is looking beyond this scheme and towards the future; staying ahead of the game in partnership with the private sector, businesses, and the Universities.
“These improvements will bring benefits for local people whether in their own homes for leisure or work purposes. High speed broadband could have an influence on easing traffic congestion as more companies have the confidence in technology to allow their staff to work from home.”
Peter Duppa-Miller, Secretary to the B&NES Local Councils Association, said: “People in rural areas have an urgent need for high speed, reliable broadband access for many different reasons. Many people operate their businesses from home which requires both fast download and upload speeds to ensure that they can meet the needs of their customers.
Conservative councillors in Bath have welcomed the proposals by the Council to improve the area’s broadband internet, but have said that far more clarity is needed on the plans.
B&NES Conservative Group Leader, Councillor Tim Warren, said: “We welcome the fact that B&NES is now taking the need to improve local broadband more seriously. Delivering superfast Broadband to rural areas and ultrafast broadband to businesses in Bath’s Enterprise Zone is something which Conservative councillors have campaigned on for a long time.
“There are many positive elements to the Council’s plan, but what is desperately needed is more clarity on what areas will benefit and when. Residents in rural areas in particular have been kept in the dark about when they will receive the improved broadband speeds, or whether they will be among the 10% who won’t get it at all. The coverage map which has been published is woefully inadequate and lacking in detail. The fact the Council and BT are withholding this information is also hampering local companies who are ready, willing and waiting to invest in even faster broadband speeds.
“The Council also needs to publish a timetable showing when upgrades will take place to enable businesses in the Bath Enterprise Area to get ultrafast internet. This will be crucial to securing the creative and technology-based businesses which the Council wants to encourage into the city.
“This sort of information is essential to delivering the world-class internet our area needs, but is currently lacking.”