Report by the Director of Communities, Economy and Transport.
18.1 The Team Manager, Economic Development introduced report. The purpose of the report is to provide an update on the implementation of the recommendations from the scrutiny review completed in March 2017. Further work has been undertaken on the redesigned web site which now provides information on the history of project; how to get the best out of broadband; detailed information on the roll out programme at property level; and a news section to announce when structures go live and other important updates.
18.2 The first two contracts undertaken as part of the Broadband Project have been completed on target, and Contract 2 will come in ahead of target in terms of the number of properties reached. As set out in the report, the delivery of Contract 3 has been delayed slightly. The Team Manager, Economic Development outlined that for Contract 3 the Council wanted more clarity on what is going to be delivered and required the successful bidder to complete a survey of all the remaining properties without superfast broadband. This will provide information on the estimated cost of reaching the remaining properties and will help to target resources cost effectively. This is the only contract nationally that has this requirement.
18.3 Unfortunately there were some issues with the quality of the information from the survey, but this has now been reworked to remove duplicates and other properties where broadband services are not required e.g. landfill sites. This has led to some delays in agreeing a deployment plan. However, BT Openreach has continued with preparations to deliver the contract, and has submitted revised proposals for deployment. These have been examined and are acceptable. The supplier will be issuing a change request to implement changes to the contract following the data corrections. Consequently, the Council will soon be able to let communities know whether they are included in the deployment plan.
18.4 The coverage achieved by the Broadband Project as at July 2019 is 97.3%, compared to 65% in July 2013. The take up rate for superfast broadband services is 64% against a national benchmark of 20%. This means that the there is good superfast broadband coverage across the County and people are using it.
18.5 The Committee discussed the report and noted the excellent work that had been undertaken on the Project to reach as many properties as possible. It was clarified that there will be a map, or other tool, that will identify those properties that will not be covered by the deployment plan agreed for Contract 3. The Committee commented that as coverage was now just over 97% and most of the work had been done, it might be better for Scrutiny to focus work on the remaining hard to reach properties after the completion of Contract 3.
18.6 The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport outlined that the Project has done a lot for the rural community through the roll out of the various contracts, but the last 3% of properties will be more expensive to connect. The Project still has to apply a value for money cut off for the cost of service provision of £2,600 per property. So there may be properties that are out of reach of the Project due to the value for money cap. It was clarified that although the cost cap is important, it is the average cost to cover properties that is crucial as this is the measure used to ensure the project does not go over budget and ensures as many properties as possible are covered.
18.7 The aim is still to try and enable superfast broadband services for 100% of properties in East Sussex, so there may be another round of work once the deployment of Contract 3 is completed. The introduction of a Universal Service Obligation by the Government for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide 10Mbps broadband services may change the emphasis of the work. ESCC is one of a few Local Authorities that have gone further than the first contract and there is a clawback mechanism in the contracts, so the Council may have further money available for investment.
18.8 The Lead Member for Economy added that ESCC has been alone in championing rural economies to the extent that it has. The Broadband Team has made a great effort to get to at least 99% coverage. It is recognised that having superfast broadband services is important for rural businesses. However, there may be more innovation required to reach the last premises.
18.9 One of the Committee members commented that communications about the project were not as good as they could have been, especially regarding the connection fees charged by ISPs for fibre to the premise (FTTP). The Council should make it clear that the householder may have to pay for the final connection by the ISP. The Economic Development Team Manager commented that extra payments by the householder are very rare and that the Openreach team have specifically built in order to avoid this happening.
18.10 The Committee commented that it is important to try to reach everybody especially as the Council seeks to digitise more of its services. There is also an issue of equity to ensure that everyone has access. The Director of Communities, Economy and Transport responded that it is challenging to get superfast broadband (24Mbps) to everyone. The Council is constrained by Treasury limits but there are alternatives (e.g. satellite or paying directly for service provision). There is information on e-Sussex web site about broadband coverage and broadband speeds. The website also gives advice to communities about alternative technologies.
18.11 The Committee thanked the Broadband Team for their work and congratulated them on their success in reaching and exceeding the coverage targets.
18.12 The Committee RESOLVED to note the progress on the implementation of the recommendations made in the Scrutiny Review Board report on the Superfast Broadband Project in March 2017.