REPORT FOR INFORMATION

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1 REPORT FOR INFORMATION REPORT TO: REPORT NO: All Members HAED/30/12S DATE: 30 January 2013 LEAD OFFICER: Head of Assets and Economic Development CONTACT OFFICER: Peter Scott (ext 2405) Dave Coates (ext 2310) SUBJECT: WARD: Broadband Provision in the Wrexham County Borough Not applicable 1. PURPOSE OF THE REPORT This report was requested by Members of the Employment, Business, Investment Scrutiny Committee, to review current broadband connectivity within the county borough; to summarise known plans for roll out of high speed broadband and to summarise the options and implications of providing free wireless (WiFi) for public access within an area of Wrexham town centre. The report has been produced in conjunction with ICT services. 2. INFORMATION The current situation 2.1 There is widespread acknowledgement that the county borough needs to be well connected in terms of high speed broadband. This infrastructure is essential if Wrexham wishes to continue to attract a diverse range of high growth, high value companies across all key sectors from tourism to advanced manufacturing.

2 2.2 Overall, the UK s communications networks continue to see overall improvements in performance, taking into account speed, uptake and capacity of fixed telecoms, mobile and broadband services. Continued increases in broadband download speeds, improved availability of superfast broadband and the growing use of smart phones and tablets to access mobile data are to a large extent responsible. 2.3 At the present time, Wrexham is covered by 15 telephone exchanges. Of these exchanges three, Wrexham Town, Wrexham North and Gresford, are scheduled to be upgraded in the next few months to provide for the Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) upgrade, which will give a speed of or up to 80 Mbps. Caergwrle exchange located in Flintshire, which serves households and businesses in the county borough, has also been upgraded. 2.4 Ofcom defines superfast broadband as a speed of not less than 30mbps. This compares to the current UK average 12.7mbps. In addition, four exchanges in the county borough, Wrexham North, Wrexham, Ruabon and Rhos are Twenty First Century Network (21CN) enabled, with one more, at Chirk coming on line within a month. 21CN gives a speed of up to 24Mbps (dependent upon distance from exchange and copper quality). 2.5 What is being rolled out in terms of broadband speeds in the UK needs to be set in a global context. Sweden s national strategy for broadband demonstrates both the pace of change and the ambition of the European competition. The strategy declares that; ninety per cent of all households and businesses should have access to broadband at a minimum speed of 100 Mbps in Forty per cent should already have access to broadband at that speed by It is important that Swedish businesses and households in all parts of the country are able to benefit from the opportunities that access to powerful broadband gives. In order to change traditional working methods, enable development of new services and business models and new patterns of behaviour. Welsh Government and BT 2.6 The Welsh Government (WG) recently announced that British Telecom (BT) has been selected as its preferred partner in the Next Generation Broadband for Wales project. This 56.9 million initiative aims to bring super fast broadband to the majority of homes and businesses in Wales. It is outside of, and entirely additional, to BT s commercial roll out programme in new infrastructure. In terms of commercial initiatives BT has already brought super fast broadband to 270,000 premises in Wales. The Next Generation Broadband contract with the WG marks a significant step in increasing connectivity to thousands of people and businesses across Wales. Over the next three years access to next generation services will be made available across Wales. It is anticipated the first premises will go live spring A detailed roll-out plan is being developed.

3 2.7 In this regard BT will therefore be making considerable investment in Wales, over and above its original commercial commitments, as part of this Next Generation Broadband for Wales project. In terms of a target, it is anticipated that 96% of Welsh homes and businesses will have access to world class broadband speed of up to 80mbps by the end of 2015, subject to the timing of state aid approvals. The infrastructure will be rolled out to those areas outside the planned commercial footprint in Wales. Details of the scoped areas are available from the Wales Intervention Scope map on the WG Website. 2.8 Officers are lobbying both WG and the broadband providers locally (including BT and Fibrespeed which provides high speed wireless broadband that is particularly targeted at business users) and will continue this work with a view to influencing priority roll out in the county borough. However, it should be appreciated that these providers are large organisations and are notoriously difficult to influence. 2.9 One area of enormous concern is that BT has no commercial plans to enable the Dutton Dyffeth exchange and bring high speed broadband to Wrexham Industrial Estate. This is surprising, given that it's a huge concentration of business; - almost 400 firms employing over 7000 people are based there. Furthermore, it seems that Welsh Government has also made the estate a low priority, and has not included the estate as part of the Next Generation programme, considering it to be adequately served by Fibrespeed provision Unsolicited letters complaining of poor broadband provision have been received by the Assets and Economic Development department from well established businesses based on the estate. Local firms are concerned that poor provision is holding back investment and actually deterring firms from locating there. One individual stated in a letter that I am now at a point where it is quicker to travel home (4 miles) to upload/download files during the day, this significantly affects production on a daily basis and unless something can be done I will be forced to consider moving from the area to new premises where faster access is available A series of meetings have been held with BT at both Member and Officer level. A written submission has been sent to them requesting that they reverse their decision not to enable the exchange, given that The Wales Spatial Plan (2008 update) identifies Wrexham as being a key settlement of national importance, being a key hub, business sector and regeneration area. The Spatial Plan also emphasises the importance in North East Wales of maintaining quality employment sites at Wrexham Industrial Estate and that Wrexham is the engine for the North Wales economy and the centre for manufacturing in Wales In other respects the Council is working with BT to support high speed roll out. An event primarily aimed at potential business users in the three exchanges that will be enabled is scheduled for February It is being organised in partnership with BT but will need to feature or acknowledge other providers to ensure that no single provider is given a commercial advantage.

4 2.13 One other issue is that some exchanges that serve the county borough are located in England. These locations across the border may lose out when BT begins enabling exchanges as part of the WG Next Generation Broadband initiative. Officers will work with neighbouring authorities to ensure that this situation is avoided wherever possible. Discussion is currently ongoing with representatives of the Cheshire Online Initiative, supported by CWAC, Cheshire East and Halton Borough Council which is lobbying providers to upgrade exchanges in their respective areas In addition, the take up for high speed broadband appears to be slow. In the areas that can get a service, both businesses and domestic users have been slow to respond, possibly deterred by having to pay a premium of up to 35 per month at current rates for domestic subscribers. FibreSpeed 2.15 FibreSpeed is partly WG funded. It is part of a wider policy for delivering high speed broadband services. Now into its fourth year, FibreSpeed is delivering high bandwidth broadband telecoms services to just 200 North Wales companies via a network of service retailers several of whom are locally based. The network connects 14 business parks, including those along the A55 via fibre-optic cable. There are some issues relating to how the system performs technically. However, it typically provides a higher, Ethernet level of service which offers low contention rates. This means that customers have exclusive use of data lines and do not have to share them with other customers. This means that even at periods of high user demand, Ethernet users data speeds are not affected In addition to its primary focus on the business community, the project has now also provided broadband services to more than 1,500 homes in the region via wireless service providers That said, the low take-up of the services demonstrates that the network is seen as an expensive option and is in many ways unsuitable, and possibly over specified for many small businesses. Public Access broadband and WiFi 2.18 In terms of Broadband provision, the network in most towns and cities is fragmented. This has prompted some local authorities in towns and cities such as Swindon, York, Barnsley, and London Borough of Islington to consider implementing free public Wi-Fi access Current commercial provision in Wrexham may be fragmented but it is extensive. There is a mixture of hotspots, cafes that grant access in exchange for buying a drink or meal; and a smattering of public buildings with free access online including Wrexham Library that offers access through both public access PCs and free WiFi.

5 2.20 It should be noted that since October 2011, all learners and staff at Yale College (both Grove Park and Bersham Road) have access to the campus wide wireless network. They each have their own private pre-shared key (PSK) that they can use to register their own devices onto the wireless network. The coverage is over most of the site including classrooms, libraries, common rooms, offices, food court and corridors A number of phone companies (notably BT and Orange) have hot spots within the town that can be accessed by their subscribers that provides broadband on the move. Comments from users indicate that this service often congested and has low download speed and is therefore compromised. However, provision is growing The use of public Wi-Fi hotspots is growing throughout the UK. The Office of National Statistics survey showed 4.9 million people used them in 2010, up from 0.7 million people in The rapid adoption of smart phones and tablet devices is responsible for much of that growth. Although the majority of these products also have 3G access, connection speeds can be erratic. Downloading or sending files can take an excruciatingly long time, and eat up monthly data allowances with alarming speed Some Councils have introduced free public Wi-Fi networks recently. On 14 November 2011, two streets in York's city centre was turned into a free Wi-Fi zone. It is hoped the scheme will boost visitor numbers and help local businesses. The Council is currently monitoring what the footfall is, and will consult with businesses, and if people think it's a good idea, roll it out further to most of the city centre at a cost of around 1million Barnsley Council has been working with AWTG Ltd to install a public access Wi-Fi network in Barnsley town centre. The Barnsley Town Centre Wi-Fi network is live now and enables the public to wirelessly access the Internet free of charge. There has been no cost to the Council in establishing the network and there will be no costs to run it. The network has been provided by AWTG Ltd at no cost to Barnsley Council (for the first two years) as it is trialling the technology The network will operate for a minimum of two years. It is hoped that the ability to access free Wi-Fi will attract shoppers into Barnsley town centre and that it will encourage people to use the Internet to see the benefits that this could have to their everyday lives Access to Barnsley Council s Wi-Fi will be available in outdoor areas of the town centre. Users will need to register to use the network and they will need to agree to standard terms and conditions which include a fair usage policy. The network has been provided by AWTG Ltd, which is trialling the technology. Wi-Fi enabled devices are able to detect "BarnsleyFreeWiFi" 2.27 Barnsley and York are not willing or able to share indicative costs as these are commercially sensitive. However, discussions have taken place between Officers of this Council and the supplier of the York system about a pilot

6 scheme within Wrexham and received outline budgetary costs of 40,000 for 12 access points excluding the cost of providing electrical services, licensing and central kit installation. These costs would certainly increase the cost estimate to 50k Proponents of free access public WiFi argue that it can provide internet access for people that could not otherwise afford it, help tourists avoid crippling data roaming charges and navigate around an area, and drive shoppers into particular areas. Consultation with both the Wrexham Town Centre Forum and wider consultation with individual traders suggests that any move by this Council to provide free access broadband to the public might prove controversial, as a number of town centre businesses offer access to broadband for their customers and clients However, a public assess system can be configured, such as in Barnsley, to operate in such a way that it would offer outdoor provision only, and not conflict with existing provision indoor provision offered to customers of coffee shops and other premises, as the connecting devices will always default to the stronger of two signals. There are also other benefits that may not be immediately apparent. For example, user data, including the internet addresses of subscribers could be used in related promotional activity. In addition, an opening splash page on the system could promote local events or advertise local goods and services High speed public access WiFi will probably be superseded by the mobile 4G network, which provides access to mobile phones and portable devices. Take up is likely to be determined by the price and perceived benefit. That said, take up is likely to be slow, given that the existing mobile 3G network has been established for over a decade and coverage is still not universal. According to Ofcom 24% of the U.K is not served by any operator and only 20% is served by all operators. In addition, phone networks become congested and it is likely that if public access WiFi was adopted in Wrexham it would probably be appropriate technology for the next ten years It should also be noted that any local authority public access broadband would also be subject to the Public WiFi compliance requirements in line with Governmental and EU legislation/directives and will be subject to the "OFCOM Code of Conduct Communications Act 2003 and the Digital Economy Act 2010" which requires the service both to be monitored, regulated and controlled. Any sub service would be subject to numerous controls to stop users downloading obscene, offensive or inappropriate material In conclusion, Wrexham has a higher percentage of broadband enabled exchanges than many other locations elsewhere in Wales, apart from South Wales. The town centre has a fragmented broadband network available to students, town centre shoppers and mobile phone company subscribers. A survey of Business attitudes will be undertaken in the next few months. The survey will include a section on their current and anticipated future need for Broadband provision. The Assets and Economic Development department and Corporate and Customer Services department will continue to lobby providers.

7 In addition the Department will also work with local business to ensure that they are both aware and able to optimise the network that is available.

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