[The briefing note presents the draft Digital Infrastructure Strategy for pre-decision Scrutiny].
The Head of Strategy introduced a report on the draft Digital Infrastructure Strategy, which was before the Panel as a pre-decision item. The report was scheduled to be received by the Cabinet on 11 September 2019. The reason why the Council was developing a Digital Infrastructure Strategy was due to its importance to local businesses and the wider economy; to be able to connect local residents to new opportunities and also the potential for the public sector to redesign and deliver services in new and innovative ways. There were three main pillars to the strategy. The first one was full fibre. Fibre was critical to enabling the system of 5G to work correctly. One of the initiatives the Council was undertaking was the local full fibre network scheme. They had secured nearly £5 million funding from Government to provide full fibre to 196 public sector sites across the City and to Social Housing Sites. The Council were promoting gigabit vouchers, which enabled local businesses to enable full fibre to the premises. A business was able to obtain up to £2,500 from the Government to upgrade their fibre broadband connections.
The Head of Strategy stated that the second pillar to the strategy was regarding wireless connectivity. Wolverhampton was part of the West Midlands Combined Authority Urban Connected Communities 5G Programme. Wolverhampton was to host the Black Country’s first 5G testbed focusing initially around construction and potential to develop into public service delivery use cases. She commented that infrastructure was key to the strategy. The Council had secured European funding to upgrade the streetlights in the City. These lights would have a smart network attached to them allowing wireless networks, Wi-Fi meshes, 5G and the ability to plug-in sensors such as air quality and footfall.
The Head of Strategy stated that the cross-cutting pillar of the strategy was acknowledging that rolling out infrastructure could be difficult, such as having to dig up roads and put up masts. They needed to work with the mobile network operators and the public to roll out the infrastructure appropriately and ensure that the general public made best use of it when it had been installed.
The Portfolio Holder for City Economy spoke in support of the draft Digital Infrastructure Strategy. He saw endless opportunities in the potential for 5G connectivity to transform the City. He commended the Officers for their work.
A Member of the Panel praised the exciting developments outlined in the Council’s draft Digital Infrastructure Strategy. They believed the new developments arising from the strategy would allow businesses to work smarter and would give more people the opportunity of being able to work at home. They believed a successful implementation of the strategy would bring significant change in the City. They wanted to ensure that the messages of the strategy were communicated effectively. They did not believe that the good work being done in the City with eBay had been promoted as well as it could have been. Communications needed to be stronger and better.
A) That an update on the Digital Infrastructure Strategy be received by the Stronger City Economy Scrutiny Panel at an appropriate time in the future.
B) That Officers co-ordinate with the Council’s Communication team on an effective communication and engagement plan promoting the benefits that the successful implementation of the Digital Infrastructure Strategy will bring to the City.