Why East Sussex should be a case study for NGA broadband
In December the East Sussex County Council (ESCC) announced it would add a “provisional” £15m to the £10.64m allocated to it from the Broadband Delivery UK’s £530m kitty for next generation access.
According to the minutes of the meeting, the £10.64m was to ensure coverage of 90% of the population. The council has now ordered a “robust” evaluation of a. what it will cost to take coverage of “superfast” broadband to 90% and b. 100%. It hopes to kick off procurement in late spring.
The East Sussex Local Investment Plan 2011-2014 has some interesting statistics and views that are likely to affect the council’s plans for high speed broadband.
According to the investment planners, East Sussex faces several challenges, among them
- Poor strategic (road and rail) and communication infrastructure
- An ageing population with an associated increasing demand for services
- Inadequate access to services in some rural areas
- Low wages and skills
- Few high earners, most working outside the county
A weak local economy, over-dependence on public sector, and small businesses which have lack of space in which to grow
- Little incentive for businesses to re-locate to, or new businesses to set up in, East Sussex
If ever there was an opportunity to test whether access to high speed broadband could make a positive impact on social and economic circumstances, East Sussex could be that case study. So there is plenty of incentive for the ESCC to go beyond BDUK’s requirement to match its funding.
According to the plan, about 500,000 people live in East Sussex. Even though the population is expected to grow by 33,100 between 2006 and 2026, the average age is expected to skyrocket.
There are some 232,000 houses of which 25,500 are social housing. Some 3.5% or 8,120 are empty, and 5% (11,600) are unfit to live in, making 212,280 households that might be up for high speed broadband, if they could afford it. Upwards of 15% of children (more than 22% in Brighton & Hove) live in low income households.
East Sussex contain a big chunk of the South Downs and the Weald. There are lots of farms and big properties. About 65% of the county is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or a National Park. This makes planning permission hard to get and drives up house prices. About 80% of East Sussex homes are priced above eight times average local earnings.
It is unsurprising then that 15 to 24 year old are leaving the country. Only the wealthy can afford to move there are, so most new settlers are in the 45 to 64 age bracket, having made their money elsewhere. Many of the rest commute to London.
So, what is BT doing about it? A quick trawl of its press releases for East Sussex NGA projects reveals
|13/09/11||FTTC||85000||Baldslow, Bexhill, Brighton Rottingdean, Eastbourne Pevensey, Hailsham, Hampden Park, Lewes, Newhaven, Polegate and Seaford|
|19/10/11||Copper||8800||Newick and Polegate|
|12/12/11||FTTC||450||Eastbourne Pevensey Marina|
BT has so far said it will upgrade broadband to 155,250 houses, 146,500 with fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) or up to 40Mbps (soon to be up to 80Mbps) and 8,800 with less than 20Mbps. That’s 73% of the houses, nicely above its self-imposed target of 66%, or getting close its 90% target, with a little help from BDUK et al.
Of course, we don’t know actually how much it costs BT to “pass a home”. The gross figures (£2.5bn divided by 66% of 27m premises) suggest it’s around £140 per house for urban areas.
So at 40% coverage (all urban) so far ESCC may have to dig deeper just to get to 90%. Or make another plan, if ESCC truly believes the game is worth the candle.
It has been pointed out that the June press release referred to Eastbourne and Hastings. It also said, “The six exchange areas announced today in the South East are Brighton Kempton in Brighton; Cowley in Oxfordshire; Folkestone and Westgate in Kent and Hastings and Eastbourne in East Sussex.” The story has been edited to reflect this. Sorry for any confusion, and thanks to our eagle-eyed readers for noting the error.