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Lords Call for Ultrafast Broadband to Boost UK Seaside Towns

Thursday, April 4th, 2019 (8:11 am) - Score 1,083

A new report from the House of Lords has claimed that digital connectivity in coastal areas is “largely insufficient,” while investment in mobile and broadband ISP infrastructure “lagged considerably behind” urban areas. As a result they want support for “ultra-fast broadband” to be the Government’s “highest priority.”

The Regenerating Seaside Towns Committee report sadly doesn’t include much statistical data to support its assumptions, although many of the local authorities that submitted evidence to the committee did remark upon concerns about the provision of “high-quality broadband and mobile connectivity” in coastal locations.

One example of this was the North Norfolk District Council, where ultrafast broadband is almost non-existent and “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) hasn’t even reached the original Broadband Delivery UK target of 90%, although it is getting close.

As the North Norfolk Council said, “many visitors to the area expect such infrastructure to be available and are frustrated by poor coverage and capacity across much of the District. This is increasingly placing our economy, but particularly tourism businesses and accommodation providers, at a commercial disadvantage, which could have long-term implications for the area.”

On the flip side the report notes that various coastal communities, such as Brighton & Hove, Bournemouth, West Sussex and many parts of Cornwall were either already well served by digital connectivity or are in the process of a major upgrade programme. Most of these have benefited from public investment schemes from the UK and / or EU, as well as work by commercial network operators (e.g. BT in Cornwall).

Lord Bassam of Brighton, Chairman of the Committee, said:

“For too long, seaside towns have been neglected. They suffer from issues rooted in the decline of their core industries, most notably domestic tourism, but also in fishing, shipbuilding and port activity, and from their location at the ‘end of the line’. The potential impact of Brexit on these towns, particularly the hospitality sector, also remains an open question.

A single solution to their economic and social challenges doesn’t exist. What is needed is a package of strategic initiatives and interventions where national and local government work together to address issues such as transport, housing, post-school education and high-speed broadband.

Places like Brighton and Bournemouth have shown that ‘the seaside’ can successfully reinvent itself. The Committee is confident that if our recommendations are pursued seaside towns can once again become prosperous and desirable places to live in and visit.”

The report concludes by saying that improving digital connectivity presents a “significant opportunity” to overcome the challenges of peripherality in coastal areas, not least by helping existing businesses, encouraging new businesses and enabling people to work more flexibly from home without the need to commute. Admittedly you could say this about many inland rural areas too.

Overall it concludes that “effective infrastructure investment” and “assistance in delivering ultra-fast broadband in seaside towns should be the highest priority” if the regeneration of these areas is to be achieved. As such it calls on the Government to “promote initiatives to support digital connectivity in coastal communities specifically, and undertake a full programme of engagement with local authorities, LEPs and businesses.”

One possible catch here is that the full report doesn’t specifically define what it means by terms like “high-speed broadband” or “ultra-fast broadband,” although we tend to assume that the latter is 100Mbps+ but Ofcom does separately use the rather awkward (and not widely accepted) definition of 300Mbps+. Some others also equate “ultra-fast” to Gigabit (1Gbps+) class connections.

The Government would no doubt say that they’re already providing some degree of support through their £1.6bn+ Broadband Delivery UK programme, which is on-going and should have covered around 97% or more UK premises with “superfast broadband” networks by March 2020. Not to mention the business rates relief on new fibre, a Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme and the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme.

On top of that various changes were proposed as part of last year’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), which aim to stimulate investment toward supporting the roll-out of future “full fibre” (FTTP) and 5G mobile broadband networks across the UK.

However it will almost certainly take a much bigger injection of public funding in order to truly tackle many of the disadvantaged coastal areas, particularly around the smaller and less commercially viable ones. Meanwhile the problem of improving mobile connectivity may be helped by new coverage obligations but there are other complex challenges to overcome here too (details).

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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13 Responses
  1. TheFacts says:

    Does this not apply to all areas requiring regeneration, not just seaside?

    Is there a significant call for faster speeds in areas where near 80M is available?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Yes, it’s just reflecting the very limited focus of this particular committee, but of course the same idea has merit in all such areas (coastal or otherwise). Part of the argument being made is that coastal areas tend to get proportionally more of their income from tourism and thus have high peak demands.

    2. Meadmodj says:

      Agree. This is more about remote communities not being able to access “effective business broadband”. Their comparison of Brighton and Bournemouth is not really valid as these are totally different economies. There are local BT exchanges and there is no reason why fibre can’t be provided. In my view it highlights the flaws in voucher funding and Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) which appears to be going to larger/richer/political authorities in cities/town where there is already Fibre presence. I know LFFN is intended to introduce competitive backbone to move things forward but highlights that large numbers of UK communities are simply being placed on a long wait for improved services, particularly businesses. If they could get Fibre coverage they could utilise ISP options similar to Truespeed/Hyperoptics and community WIFI like IntechnologyWiFi for locals and tourists.

    3. Meadmodj says:

      comparison WITH Brighton and Bournemouth

    4. Neb says:

      Doesn’t Bournemouth already have FTTH via City Fibre?

      Plus Brighton & Hove has Virgin right – 100mb+ albeit non-symmetric coax?

      Lightning Fibre are rolling out to the Eastbourne area.

      ZzoomM intends to go Hastings.

      Toob are going Portsmouth area.

      Lots of activity on the Seaside Towns of the South at least.

      Are B4RN at the Seasides of the North West? … imagining B4RN in Blackpool…

    5. Joe says:

      @Neb many of those are more prosperous towns/c Some of the most disadvantaged places in the uk are the old seaside towns. Higher costs for most things and poorest facilities.

    6. NGA for all says:

      @Meadmodj .. There is outstanding Ofcom work since 2017 on defining a ‘reasonable request’ for FTTP off subsidised infrastructure. It was raised and half-promised in the WBA procduct review. A little more action on that would reduce the reliance on vouchers and LFFN.

    7. TheFacts says:

      @Joe – suggest a poor seaside town to look at.

  2. NGA for all says:

    This suggests like NI, CDS, and I assume Scotland, Wales, these councils need to get their BDUK/HMT ‘spend-by’ dates extended beyond the implementation date of the B-USO.

    If they do not, the intended monies to fix the problem and monies owed by BT, will be lost back to Treasury functions. This includes much of the clawback and any of the capital balances owed.

    I have seen references to the NI project now at 2024, and CDS at 2023. It would be good to see a full list and process for counties to get on it. I assume any B_USO process will run a big exception list so these works can be completed before industry starts paying for Openreach upgrades.

  3. TheFacts says:

    Bexhill on Sea, all cabinets have FTTC.

    1. alan says:

      Since when was FTTC “ultrafast”?

  4. Marty says:

    Nice pic of a submarine cable being installed there. 🙂

    1. Marty says:

      I get the jist of the story

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