“High speed digital connectivity is crucial to economic success and social wellbeing”
Guest blog from Robert Powell, BT Regional Partnership Director
BT is investing heavily to bring a new mix of fibre and mobile broadband technologies and services across the Sheffield City Region
The past few years have seen the UK race ahead to become the world’s leading digital economy with a greater proportion of economic activity driven by the internet than any other nation including “digital exemplars” such as Sweden, Japan, the US, or South Korea. It is vital to the future of the UK’s socio-economic prosperity that we not only maintain, but extend this success to every part of Britain and every corner of our region, continuing to move forward together; more connected, capable and competitive.
As the UK’s leading communications company, BT is key to the regions continued economic and social prosperity. BT has given a massive £453 million boost to the Sheffield City region economy in the past year, according to an independent study produced by Regeneris1. The report highlights the huge local impact of BT’s activities including its takeover of EE. Around £38 million was spent with suppliers in the region and the overall economic impact of our activities, expressed as a “Gross Value Added” (GVA) is estimated to be £453 million
We continue to make more connections and create new possibilities, helping businesses to grow, communities to flourish and individuals to get more out of life. More than 26 million UK business and residential premises can now get fibre broadband via Openreach, BT’s local network business. And we have plans to go further, delivering faster broadband speeds and expanding the reach of fibre broadband beyond the Government’s 95 per cent target and moving the UK from a superfast nation to an ultrafast one.
In South Yorkshire fibre broadband is now available to around 480k homes and businesses thanks to BT’s own commercial roll-out of the technology and the Superfast South Yorkshire broadband programme. Superfast South Yorkshire was formed in September 2014 as local authorities joined forces with BT in a £22 million deal to extend the availability of high-speed, fibre broadband across South Yorkshire. A further £4.8 million in additional funding has been secured to extend the reach of fibre to 99 per cent of the programme area. Enhanced copper broadband is also available to more than half a million premises in the Sheffield City region.
Doncaster based DanceETC is one of the largest dancewear retailers in the UK and superfast broadband has helped to completely transform their business. Since the company connected to superfast broadband it has been able to expand and compete in new markets, boosting sales, resulting in the recruitment of a new staff member.
Founder Dan Hodgson said: “Having fibre has given the business a new lease of life. We’ve now been able to start properly building our online business. The website is our virtual shop window to the world – it really is where everything should be driven from. “
“Before we had superfast we just couldn’t do that – the website was more an afterthought. Now our website is at the forefront of our business. Customers visiting us online can take a virtual tour of the store and we are planning to launch 360 degree viewing application so people get a better view of the product before they buy. Sales via the website have increased – it is still early days but we’ve already noticed an impact. We’ve started building more content into the website and hired an apprentice who has taken over the running of the website and social media.”
With superfast speeds of around 70Mbps, the retailer is transforming its customer services but also completely overhauling its sales and office systems – helping to lift sales even further by increasing what they can offer online.
Community Fibre Partnerships
BT is committed to working with all communities to find a fibre solution. Our ambition is never to say ‘no’ and work together with local communities to agree a suitable and affordable option to bring fibre to parts of South Yorkshire not currently included in any commercial or publicly funded fibre broadband rollout plans. BT’s Community Fibre Partnership programme works with the community and Openreach, sharing the costs of installing new fibre infrastructure. Openreach make a significant contribution to each project, with local residents raising the funds required to make up the shortfall in the commercial case for bringing fibre to these hard-to-reach communities.
As part of the scheme BT has made £2m available via a grant for Community Fibre Partnerships that could benefit their local school. This enables communities not covered by fibre broadband rollout plans to apply for a grant of up to £20,000 toward the cost of the new fibre broadband upgrade if the technology will also benefit a local school or similar organisation. So, for example, if the cost for a gap-funded solution that serves a school has been quoted as £23,000, the community would pay £11,500 and £11,500 would be match-funded from the grant.
There are many ways in which businesses and communities can co-fund fibre such as crowdfunding. We’ve teamed up with Spacehive to help hard-to-reach communities get access to fibre broadband via a package of co-funding. Windfarm community funds could also be available – these schemes make grants available for projects which will benefit the wider community located within a certain distance of a given wind farm. There is also the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Better Broadband Subsidy Scheme. The scheme provides access to a subsidised broadband installation to homes and businesses that don’t have access to broadband speeds of at least 2Mbps, and who won’t benefit from the national superfast broadband roll out. Applications to the subsidy scheme can be made until the end of 2017, but for redeeming vouchers against Community Fibre Partnerships with us for fibre broadband, we’re asking for applications to be in by spring 2017. So if you’re in the process of applying for these ‘vouchers’, or already have an offer, we urge you to get things finalised as soon as you can.
Find out more at www.communityfibre.bt.com
Plans for ultrafast services
BT wants to take the UK from a superfast nation to an ultrafast one and already has trials underway including one in Sheffield. The city will be amongst the first in the UK to benefit from the new ultrafast broadband technology being developed by Openreach. Sheffield is a pilot location which will see the new ultrafast technology, known as G.Fast, provide download speeds of up to 330Mbps – more than 10 times the UK national average. Thousands of premises in Sheffield will be given access to the technology during 2017.
Our acquisition of EE, the UK’s best mobile network, is going to lead to a new world of products and services. It pioneered the UK’s first superfast 4G mobile service, with coverage today reaching more than 95 per cent of the UK population. EE’s 2G coverage reaches 99 per cent of the population while 3G reaches 98 per cent. It is EE’s ambition to connect 95 per cent of the UK landmass to its superfast 4G network by 2020, including some of the most remote parts of the country. The acquisition of EE means we can invest even further, enabling people living and working in Sheffield to get access to the best communications – fixed line, mobile and broadband services – now and in the future.
A thriving successful economy for South Yorkshire
By the end of 2017 we expect to see fibre broadband coverage to reach 98.9% of South Yorkshire. In a competitive world, in which trade and relationships increasingly transcend regional and national boundaries, rapid and effective communications are ever more vital. Fast and reliable connectivity has never been more important and this will make the region more attractive to investors and enable enterprising businesses to grow in our thriving, super-connected and successful economy.