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Brighton and Hove UK to Build £1.66m Fibre Optic Ring Network

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020 (8:34 am) - Score 1,493

The Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) in East Sussex has agreed to invest £1.66m into a new 3 mile long fibre optic ring network in the centre of Brighton, which will be used to connect up key public sector sites in the city centre with the Brighton Digital Exchange (BDX) and a 5G mobile test bed at New England House.

The new Research and Innovation Fibre Ring (R&IR) network will initially be owned by the city council, with space leased to a co-operative of local digital businesses to drive community wealth building. In terms of funding some £333,000 will come from the council, with £499,000 from businesses and the rest from the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP); total funding of £1,665,293.

The match funding from the city council is proposed to be made up of offering the BDX a further 3 years of rent free space in New England House (worth approx. £50,000) and paying a portion of the fibre build costs. The council will receive an asset in the form of fibre infrastructure that will save its own connection costs in the vicinity and will also receive a rental income.

The city council is also said to be exploring related options for the roll-out of full fibre (FTTP) broadband across the city in order to connect homes and smaller businesses, although initially their focus will remain on providing further fibre in the city centre (Dark Fibre). The proposed route map gives some idea of where this is likely to go.

brighton and hove fibre optic ring network map

The fibre spine will be operated by a cooperatively owned host for the mutual benefit of engaged businesses and public sector bodies. “This will create a valuable core network that ISPs and operators, including new, smaller disruptive providers, can invest in and build out from,” said the council’s report.

As part of ensuring the city council ends up in a cost neutral position, the co-operative will commit to buy the asset after renting fibre in the duct for a period of 15 years. In the long run the council predicts that the new network will ultimately pay for itself, not least by generating an estimated £115m for the local economy over 10 years.

However it’s worth noting that the majority of the city is already covered by Openreach’s (BT) ultrafast broadband G.fast network and Virgin Media’s 1Gbps capable cable infrastructure is similarly present across an even larger area. On top of that Openreach has already announced that Brighton is on their “Fibre FirstFTTP roll-out by March 2021, although we’ve yet to see any work begin.

Suffice to say that the economic benefits probably haven’t been weighted against the presence of such existing and future networks.

Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. Avatar New_Londoner

    Let’s hope that the council has performed the necessary State Aid checks before committing to this project.

    • Avatar joe

      Anchor tenant looks pretty safe. Of course they could take a punt on no SA rules and go for broke but they haven’t.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      You’re right that the anchor tenant approach should be fine, providing the council has gone through its normal procurement process and can show that any contract has been awarded fairly.

      Any other support still needs to be compliant unless under the minimum threshold. For example, if the council is waiving business rates for this project then it should do so for all similar deployments to demonstrate that the business rates waiver isn’t aid. In addition, any loans etc must be made at commercial rates as any discount would also be a form of aid.

      The council certainly can’t use market failure as a justification for intervention given the provision already available or in deployment from other network operators. The risk is that any of these companies could rightly complain if their commercial investment was being unfairly undermined by the council.

      By the way, the risk here all falls on the private sector partners as they would have to repay any state aid if it were deemed to be illegal. In contrast, in such circumstances the council would get its money back, although with a damaged reputation and probably some disciplinary matters to attend to as well.

  2. Avatar Meadmodj

    In my view the important issue is that the Councillors are given the correct information on which to make the decision.

    At a headline level it looks as though there is £1.6m investment and only £300k from BHCC. It does not highlight on going that BDX is getting not only free rates but free rent. Its not just this fibre project but also a “5G testbed” (despite 5G masts being turned down locally). For a council that is reducing social care and a “city” that needs park & ride etc the priorities look a bit strange.

    I don’t have access to the business case but the agenda notes of the 13th February only has a small paragraph regarding risk which projects a pessimistic view of the Fibre available in Brighton. There is no mention of current availability (Ultra&Giga) or future OR/VM/5G/Altnet plans and that the projected economy benefit would be directly attributable to this investment not any wider commercial investment. Whether this proposal stacks up or not I don’t know but I have concerns when LA’s are getting involved in non-core activities and not providing Councillors the full picture.

  3. Avatar A_Builder

    It may be that the scheme was in gestation long before Fibre First and VM3.1 became a thing.

    But let’s not confuse replacing leased lines for LA and it’s clients with domestic FTTP.

    If the LA really can get an uplift for minimum £risk then it might be worth the experiment.

    I don’t really see how the dead hand of the bogeyman of state aid Rules has anything to do with this? And I’ve been through that in here many times before.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Yes distribution networks and leased lines are different but it is THEM that are projecting increased economic activity in their business case as justification. The ring could provide BHCC with inter building connectivity but that assumes all buildings predominately need Intranet access. A lot of buildings like the Library will be predominately Internet traffic with a little to their shared data centre in Redhill (part of the Orbis partnership). The local businesses will also have more of a relation with the Internet or their other company sites elsewhere in the UK. If the case was the consolidation to fewer data feeds to Redhill that may be different and presumably would be stated.

      Note this is in parallel to the previous Coast to Capital initiatives and BHCC Fibre spine collaboration (including LFFN funding) with East Sussex and West Sussex which are linking public buildings, data centres and key locations across West Sussex including Gatwick.

      Last year for BHCC children’s social care was cut (projected to be £140,000) alone and council tax rose 4%. Government is funding LFFN separately and 5G initiatives elsewhere so why is this being replicated by BHCC at a cost to rate payers.

  4. Avatar FibreBubble

    Every provider in Christendom is in Brighton already. Vanity project from the council in a city with massive and growing tented homeless population.

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