The Chair invited the Senior Economic Development Officer, Geri Panteva, to provide a summary of the report.
The report was to provide members with an update on the current status of different initiatives to improve digital connectivity in East Devon, and more specifically:
· Provide an update on the roll-out of the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme since a new delivery contract was awarded at the end of 2020
· Provide an update on the latest developments by Jurassic Fibre
· Present a case study of an ultra-fast broadband connection supplied to a new residential and commercial development in East Devon (Winslade Park at Clyst St. Mary) and,
· Highlight an alternative way to connect hard to reach rural areas through the Starlink satellite internet service piloted in East Devon (KOR Communications case study)
The COVID-19 pandemic had affected all aspects of the economy and society, including established working models and practices, and prompted by periods of national restrictions, working from home has become a new norm, which is expected to have long-lasting impact on how businesses approach their operational models going forward. Such changes have highlighted the importance of a reliable and fast digital and broadband infrastructure and associated connectivity.
Although set in a predominantly rural environment, and whilst East Devon has many challenges in delivering such infrastructure, it is at the same time seeing one of the most significant private investments in digital infrastructure delivered by Jurassic Fibre and is benefitting from the largest public funded super-fast broadband programme in the country – Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS).
Comments or questions during the debate on this topic included the following;
· What will Jurassic Fibre and CDS be doing to ensure they connect to every individual household rather than the general local area?
In response the officer stated that the Government’s Building a Digital UK initiative was aimed at funding programmes which are unlikely to be commercially viable, for example, for the purpose of reaching hard to reach areas. In contrast, for private companies commercial success is important and they will incline towards areas with many potential customers. In this situation, there will always be people or communities who could miss out on some opportunities but the report highlights different options available.
· There is a great difference in the reality between stating that 95% of areas will be covered and connected digitally, to stating that 95% of households will be covered. This is both confusing and suggests a much better coverage than the reality.
· There are wards in East Devon which contain areas without any broadband connectivity. Is there a strategy in place for dealing with such areas remaining unconnected?
In response the officer stated that a Plan had been developed in March by the Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport, aimed at encouraging and supporting a range of different contractual delivery options.
The Chair thanked the officer for her report and presentation and invited members to vote to indicate whether they accepted the update received. Following a vote, she confirmed that members were happy to note and accept the report.