Agenda item

Connectivity and Wi-Fi Improvements


The Chair explained that the agenda had changed slightly, and the Connectivity and Wi-Fi Improvement had been moved forward. The ASELA LFFN Programme Manager introduced the report and explained that it was in response to questions raised at the Committee meeting in June 2020 regarding digital infrastructure. He explained that Thurrock currently only had 8% fibre coverage across the borough, and the Council were committed to raising this to 100% before the government’s target of 2025. He stated that Thurrock’s LFFN (Local Full Fibre Network) was part of a wider entity organised by ASELA (Association South Essex Local Authorities), who had received a grant of £4.4million from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. He explained that part of this grant had been given to Thurrock, which would provide 60km of fibre and 78 full fibre sites. He described that the project was currently being delivered and 31 sites across the borough would be completed by the end of November, with the rest being installed by the end of January 2021. He stated that ASELA had also received an additional £2.5million of funding to extend the programme, and the team were currently arranging which sites would receive this funding and the necessary fibre infrastructure.

The ASELA LFFN Programme Manager added that the team were working with the Superfast Essex Programme to ensure that the project received best value from public monies, and additional support was being sourced by ASELA from the Outside In Programme from central government, which aimed to get fibre connectivity to harder to reach places. He explained that although Thurrock did not have many hard to reach areas, there were some areas in ASELA which would benefit greatly from the scheme. He then explained that by working so closely with central government during this project, Thurrock and ASELA had gained visibility and were able to provide input into government decisions. He added that the LFFN team were also working with community forums regarding poor broadband speeds in some areas and were providing guidance and help in this area. The ASELA LFFN Programme Manager felt that it was good to see investment from central government and market engagement, but the programme also required investment from the private sector to encourage the inter-connectivity of LFFN. He stated that Openreach had recently announced investment in Grays and Purfleet which would begin in six months’ time and help approximately 26,000 residents’ access fibre networks. He explained that the business model surrounding public Wi-Fi was changing, as there was now a decreased need for this service, as the majority of people had smartphones with 4G access. He stated that there was an increased demand for high quality inside Wi-Fi as there was greater usage and greater demand. He explained that indoor Wi-Fi was provided by the organisations running the sites, and although the Council did have some public Wi-Fi sites, it was now increasingly important to have full fibre and 4G/5G coverage.
Councillor Ralph began questions and asked whether the reduced demand for public Wi-Fi was a corporate or public view, and whether this had been consulted on. He felt that some people still required public Wi-Fi, particularly in areas with poor signal. The ASELA LFFN Programme Manager responded that this was the general market and sector view, but no detailed analysis had been carried out. He stated that although some areas did have poor coverage, he felt it was not best use of public monies to invest in public Wi-Fi, as the Council needed to invest in full fibre. Councillor Ralph felt concerned that some people could not afford to rely on expensive phone data packages and relied on free Wi-Fi. The ASELA LFFN Programme Manager explained that the business model for Wi-Fi charging was now gone as there was no justification for this, as people expected free Wi-Fi everywhere, for example in pubs and hotels.


The Committee:

1. Commented on and noted the report.

Supporting documents: