by Andy Bell, Head of Public Sector at ITS
Digitalisation has long been on the local government agenda. The ambition to utilise modern technologies to improve how we live and work is a priority. While technology has advanced, the biggest obstacle to adoption has often been a lack of long-term strategy and access to the infrastructure to support it. Andy Bell, Head of Public Sector at wholesale full fibre provider specialist ITS Technology Group gave us this exclusive interview on how this is changing, fast.
The switch to full fibre
The UK is undergoing a once in a generation telecom infrastructure upgrade as the country’s legacy copper networks are replaced with full fibre cables capable of delivering futureproof highspeed connectivity and broadband services. Local authorities are playing a vital role in this as they look to deliver on their strategic ambitions and find new solutions that will create a better future for their communities.
Delivering infrastructure that works for the long term
Decision-making and influence in a local authority can make or break a digital strategy and its outcomes. The public private partnerships that reap the strongest outcomes are those where there is deep collaboration from the very early stages – to have the opportunity to really dig into the ‘art of the possible’ – which helps to shape plans for the long term. That is why at ITS we refer to ourselves as a strategic connectivity partner rather than simply a supplier.
ITS has more than 80 local authorities located across its UK-wide fibre footprint and has a strong track record of working with the public sector. We sit on several procurement frameworks including Crown Commercial Services’ NS3. We signed the first UK concession agreement which was with Hammersmith & Fulham Council to reuse its CCTV ducts to build out a network to support businesses. We have since forged further agreements including flagship joint ventures LCR Connect in Liverpool City Region and Digital Greenwich Connect in The Royal Borough of Greenwich. By establishing commercial entities, the joint ventures will channel back 50% of the returns directly to the councils involved to support their wider objectives. Our mission is to build relationships for the long term.
By bringing together an ambitious council with the proven track-record of a network provider, it will also deliver on the needs of a mixed economy, not just what is most commercially attractive. This approach helps to close the digital divide.
The economic benefits of full fibre are well understood. As a gateway to the technologies that increase collaboration and productivity, this infrastructure is boosting local economies through for example, attracting inward investment, and nurturing and retaining a highly skilled workforce.
As well as delivering modern public services, the social value that can underpin these networks at a very granular level are a fundamental benefit of making full fibre and high-speed services available to everyone. By striving towards a shared and equal community where nobody is left behind, it will build a future-facing community and improve lives. There isn’t a one size fits all. Social value must be tailored to the needs of each local authority area and can take many forms – for example, WiFi access in community hubs, creating apprenticeships, mentoring local businesses, and preparing children for the world of work, or delivering digital skills courses for all ages.
The most successful collaborations are those where the local authority is truly engaged in the process – this not only helps with the mechanics of the rollout itself, from where the network is built, to reuse of existing assets, highways, and wayleaves, but it also ensures that there is support around the uptake of services and the future outcomes delivered by the infrastructure.
Ultimately, whatever the device and application in use, whether it is being accessed indoors or outside, it will rely on a fast internet connection to function. Full fibre is the key to enabling all aspects of our lives – from smart technologies applied across services including transport and health, to working from home, and streaming Netflix. The digital agenda must be designed so that no one is left behind.
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