A London borough is bringing full fibre broadband to its social housing residents in an attempt to address digital inequality. Housing Industry Leaders investigates why this is important, and what is being done in the wider-UK?
Dubbing it the ‘fourth utility’, Redbridge Council describe internet access as a ‘necessity alongside water, electricity, and gas.’
They are committed to future-proofing the borough’s digital services by investing in digital infrastructure which will provide access to fast, reliable internet speeds.
At present, less than half of the borough have access to high-speed fibre, though the council are keen to deliver not only equitable access to the internet, but also the skills to use it, and an understanding of the potential it could have for their lives.
According to a 2023 Ofcom report, 7% of households do not have access to the internet at home
Working alongside broadband providers, the council also aim to help its residents in accessing affordable packages, with subscriptions beginning later this year.
Further work is also to be undertaken in conjunction with the council’s digital infrastructure programme, including utilising ‘small call’ technology to improve 5G phone service connections.
Cllr Vanisha Solanki, Cabinet Member for Housing and Homelessness, said: “With the internet playing such an important role in our everyday day lives, be it work, education and entertainment, our investment in the borough’s digital infrastructure will help to both ensure those who live in properties owned by the council have access to reliable and fast internet connection as well as addressing digital inequality”.
Project Gigabit is improving internet access in UK homes
The government is also showing its commitment to levelling up UK residents’ internet access through Project Gigabit, which has a budget of £5 billion, the latest funding of which has been awarded to North Shropshire.
Thanks to the £24 million government contract, thousands of homes in the region are set to upgrade to high-speed full-fibre broadband.
Freedom Fibre, who have been awarded the three-year contract, will roll out their network across North Shropshire from February 2024, with lightning-fast broadband expected to be operational for the first properties by October that year.
Neil Mc Arthur, CEO of Freedom Fibre, said: “We are delighted to be selected to deliver the latest full fibre broadband technology as part of the North Shropshire Gigabit project.
“Freedom Fibre is already delivering these services to rural homes and businesses across North West Shropshire and is pleased to be expanding our services to 12,038 homes and businesses in North Shropshire.”
In an effort to form part of the government’s initiative to replace ageing copper networks with a UK-wide roll out of full fibre, the project will end decades of copper-based services and facilitate the delivery of high-speed full fibre to the UK.
Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale said: “Thanks to £24 million in government support, thousands of rural homes and businesses across North Shropshire will benefit from Freedom Fibre’s lightning-fast, reliable broadband.
“Delivering the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy, Project Gigabit is equipping regions like North Shropshire with state-of-the-art connectivity infrastructure and preparing them for the digital age, ushering in a new wave of opportunity and economic growth.”
Working with several internet service provides and local authorities, Freedom Fibre will utilise existing overhead poles and underground ducts to minimise disruption wherever possible.
Councillor Robert Macey, Shropshire Council cabinet member with responsibility for Culture and Digital, also commented: “Improved digital infrastructure remains a top priority for Shropshire Council given its significant economic and social benefits and we look forward to seeing Freedom Fibre progress this exciting infrastructure project.”
In addition to their commitment to proving lightning-fast internet connectivity, Freedom Fibre will also invest thousands of pounds into a range of socio-economic and environmental projects throughout North Shropshire.
One of these projects is the ‘Freedom Fund’, which offers £25,000 in funding for environmentally friendly community-led projects in the communities benefitting from their full-fibre network.
To date, Project Gigabit has awarded contracts in North Dorset, Teesdale, North Northumberland, Cumbria, Cornwall, Cambridgeshire, New Forest, and now North Shropshire.