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Only four respond to city-wide broadband plan

By Joe Sweeney | Wolverhampton | News | Published:

Multi-million pound plans to launch 5G broadband in Wolverhampton have been announced.

Councillor Phil Bateman (Lab. Wednesfield North).

The city has been selected as one of the few places in Europe to launch 5G, with a view to making the city more attractive to outside investors and developing greater economic growth locally.

But the announcement to install full fibre broadband across the city from this spring has so far attracted just four responses, when the council asked the public for feedback.

Currently only 0.29 per cent of the city is connected to full fibre – which is up to ten times faster than current home broadband speeds and allows for more devices to be connected at the same time without slowing down.

The council’s Stronger City Economy Scrutiny Panel was given a presentation on the plans by Councillor Beverley Momenabadi, when it emerged that a public consultation into the initiative had only generated four responses – two of which were described as ‘corporate’.

Councillor Phil Bateman told the meeting: “This is a huge project for our city. We’re talking about millions of pounds of investment here, so I would be interested to know why there were only four responses to the public consultation.

“We should be out shouting about this so everyone is aware of it. These are the first steps in a multi-million pound project that is going to affect us for years to come.

“This has opened up a huge area of issues for me. We’re setting out on changing the very foundations of our city. I want to be certain we’re not starting out on the wrong foot, because if we are it will be like building on sand.

“The challenge for us all is huge. It will mean roads all over the city having to be dug up and a lot of work. We want to make sure we’re on the right path. Communication is key to this.” he added.

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Councillor Momenabadi, who is the city’s Digital Innovation Champion, said: “I want to assure everyone that we’re not just powering ahead with this in a blinkered fashion. Our dedicated team is working very closely with highways and everyone else involved in this.

“We are future-proofing the city’s future. This has huge potential for Wolverhampton. Bristol is one of the few other places in the country that has gone down this route and markets itself as a ‘Smart City’.

“Our city is already home to the first 20-metre 5G mast in the UK and we are aspiring to become ‘Smart Wolverhampton’. We’re committed to making Wolverhampton a leading city for UK connectivity and innovation.”

The council’s Director of Strategy, Charlotte Johns, said one reason the public consultation attracted so little response could be down to the use of the phrase ‘digital infrastructure’ which might not have appealed to many people.

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CityFibre, the UK’s third national digital infrastructure platform, has been named as the council’s partner in rolling out full fibre connectivity to public sector premises across the city.

Work will begin this spring following the council securing £4.9 million government funding from the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).

Councillor Craig Collingswood said: “I think we are very lucky as a city to be chosen to trial this. Lots of places in Europe don’t have this and by being ahead of the game I think we can really make Wolverhampton gold standard in this field.”

Over the next 15 years it is predicted that full fibre broadband will lead to £27m of direct investment, a £64m business impact for the city and £58m of benefits to households.

Taking in around 170 sites, the new network will help to upgrade the delivery of frontline public sector services, lowering operational costs and boosting productivity.

It will also help meet the growing demand from residents for digital services in public buildings and also improve educational resources.

The council’s cabinet member for resources, Councillor Louise Miles, said: “Better connectivity in public buildings is essential to ensure residents are digital included.

“Our libraries are committed to giving people access to new and emerging digital technology through the provision of computers, free WiFi and other digital technologies and developing digital skills.”

Rob Hamlin, chief commercial officer at CityFibre, said: “We are delighted Wolverhampton Council has decided to work with us on delivering this much-needed upgrade to critical public sector infrastructure.

“Increasingly, local authorities around the country are realising the potential of full fibre to transform places like Wolverhampton into modern, fully connected, digital cities.

“By choosing a full fibre network, local authorities will be able to future proof vital public sector infrastructure for generations to come.”

Joe Sweeney

By Joe Sweeney
@JoeSweeneyLDR

Local Democracy Reporter covering Wolverhampton.

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