Havant Civic Society keeps a watchful, and we hope constructive, eye on Havant Borough Council’s Regeneration Strategy. We note that the strategy is framed almost entirely in terms of building projects, both commercial and residential, with little mention of the necessary underpinning infrastructure. In our modern, digital world, fast and reliable broadband is an essential part of that infrastructure and should be regarded as a utility, no less vital than roads, electricity and water. It is therefore a little worrying that the word “broadband” appears only twice in the 334 pages of HBC’s new Local Plan, currently being scrutinised by the Inspectors.
Recent developments in the telecoms world have presented HBC with an opportunity to accelerate the arrival of fast, modern broadband in our area and we are keen to ensure the Council grasps it. You too, dear reader, have a part to play.
So, what is going on?
A recent announcement by Ofcom – Ramping up the rollout of full-fibre broadband – Ofcom – has made it commercially more attractive for telecoms companies to accelerate their ultrafast broadband plans in urban areas, rather than relying on Government intervention. Ultrafast is defined by Ofcom to mean broadband with a speed of between 300Mbps – 1Gbps, though may also be used for broadband packages with speeds faster than 80Mbps. It is also often referred to as Full Fibre. This is provided through Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) technology. (By comparison, those fortunate enough to live in parts of the borough served by Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) will be enjoying Superfast broadband, defined as speeds of 30Mbps or higher. In practice, it is often slower.)
The Ofcom announcement has prompted an eager response from network providers. CityFibre, a company that is currently installing its own FTTP network in Portsmouth, has announced plans to rollout full fibre to another 216 towns and villages across the UK between 2022 and 2025. Havant (east of the A3(M)) and Emsworth are included – see map here: Nationwide Full Fibre Rollout Programme – CityFibre. There will be a number of factors that influence CityFibre’s decisions on which areas to install first and, left to their own devices, Havant and Emsworth could quite possibly be 215th and 216th on their list. One of these factors will be the level of interest in having ultrafast broadband installed shown by residents and businesses in the targeted areas.
This rollout programme presents HBC with an opportunity to advance its regeneration agenda by proactively encouraging CityFibre to place us in the early part of their schedule. The large residential development coming at Southleigh, for example, would be an attractive business opportunity for the company and the Council will – one hopes – have an estimate of the number of businesses it expects regeneration to bring to the Borough. In turn, the presence of ultrafast broadband here will encourage businesses, especially small and home-based ones, to locate in Havant. Through enhancing homeworking capability, it will also reduce out-commuting, which is a key objective of the Regeneration Strategy. HCS therefore encourages HBC to grasp this opportunity while it exists – the CityFibre rollout programme is currently being planned and it will not be too long before it is finalised.
BT too is planning a rapid expansion of its Openreach full fibre network: Britain’s BT to build fibre ‘like fury’ after regulator’s greenlight | Reuters. Although there is no detail available of its intended geographical coverage, there is clearly an opportunity here too for HBC to seek to encourage BT to prioritise Havant in its scheduling.
I mentioned that there is a role for you in this. First, whether you have a personal desire to improve your home broadband or not, please go to the CityFibre website and register an interest in their full fibre product: CityFibre – Residential. This is entirely without obligation but will help encourage the company to see Havant as a commercial priority. Please encourage all your friends, neighbours and work colleagues to do the same.
Also, do contact your local Councillor, to ensure he or she is aware of this issue and to encourage them to put pressure on the Council to be proactive. With a bit of effort and some good fortune, it is entirely possible we could see ultrafast broadband in our area within 18 months.
Vernon Stradling – HCS Treasurer