Full fibre broadband would boost West Midlands economy by £4.5 billion


Building a nationwide full fibre network is the second-largest infrastructure project in the UK, requiring a physical build to more than 30 million front doors

Connecting everyone in the West Midlands to ‘full fibre’ broadband by 2025 would create a £4.5 billion boost to the region’s economy, by unlocking smarter ways of working, better public services and greater opportunities for the next-generation of home-grown businesses.

The new report also reveals that 43,000 people could be brought back into the workforce through enhanced connectivity. This could include roles within small businesses and entrepreneurs – as well as allowing thousands more people to work remotely.

The figures are featured in a report by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) – “Full fibre broadband: A platform for growth” [ openreach.co.uk/fullfibreimpact] – commissioned by Openreach, which looks at the economic impacts of a fully-fibred UK.

Full fibre, Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology, not only brings faster broadband speeds - download speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second (1Gbps) are available – but it’s also more reliable and will meet people’s needs for decades. It’s capable of download speeds around 18 times faster than the current UK average[1].

The Cebr research also highlights the positive impact full fibre broadband would have on rural towns and villages where people have traditionally moved away in search of work. Being able to work from home or set up a home-based business would make these areas appealing once again to workers, boosting the local economy alongside reducing transport and housing pressures in big cities.

Robert Thorburn, Openreach Partnership Director, said: “This report looks at the significant economic benefit and jobs boost that having access to full fibre would create. Openreach – as the UK’s largest telephone and broadband network – is leading the way when it comes to full fibre. We’re reaching 22,000 homes and businesses each week (or one every 28 seconds) in places like Birmingham, Bromsgrove, Coventry and Solihull and we’re looking forward to going even further in the future.

“Full fibre builds on our existing success across the West Midlands. Superfast broadband (speeds of 24 Mbps and above) already reaches more than 97 per cent of homes and businesses[2] and Openreach’s work in the region is a combination of our own investment, our partnerships with local councils, and working directly with local communities to make faster speeds available.”

Building a nationwide full fibre network is the second-largest infrastructure project in the UK, requiring a physical build to more than 30 million front doors, from places like inner-city Birmingham to the most remote parts of Shropshire. The National Infrastructure Commission has estimated the cost at £33.4 billion by 2033, with the majority of this coming from private investment.

However, red-tape and punitive business rates on fibre infrastructure currently undermine the investment case and are slowing down the roll-out, meaning that the private sector could struggle to reach ambitious targets set by Government.

Clive Selley, Openreach CEO, said:

“Full fibre is a vehicle to turbocharge our economy post-Brexit, with the power to renew towns and communities across the UK. We’re proud to be leading the way with over 1.8 million homes and businesses already having access to our full fibre network. Our nationwide ambition is to go even faster and further than ever before – and build to 15 million premises by the mid-2020s and ultimately the majority of the UK.

“Through the Openreach Fibre First programme, we are now building to 103 locations across the UK and on track to build to four million premises by March 2021. With the right policies and regulation, we can build an even better, more reliable broadband network faster than any other country in the world and unlock the benefits for the whole UK.

“If that doesn’t happen, then many people will be locked out of a more connected future and the UK could lose its status as a global digital leader.”

In response to the report, Openreach has published proposals [openreach.co.uk/fullfibreimpact] that will enable Government and the industry to massively accelerate the roll-out. These include:

· An exemption from business rates in order to stimulate more investment

· Government action to lower costs and reduce barriers to deployment

· The regulator setting the right conditions to unlock the commercial case for companies to build across most of the UK.

Mike Spicer, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

“Businesses across the UK tell us there is so much more they could do if residential internet connections were improved - from supporting flexible and agile working to providing new services to consumers. We strongly support initiatives to speed up the rollout of full fibre to premises to position Britain in the premier league of digital-ready countries.” 

Many of the premises Openreach has already built to are hard-to-reach rural areas, with over 100,000 across the UK – around 9,600 in the West Midlands including Cotwalton in Staffordshire and Hanbury in Worcestershire - now part of Openreach’s Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) scheme.

More than 2,500 Openreach people live and work in the West Midlands and earlier this year it was announced that 180 engineers are being recruited locally. Birmingham is also one of a handful of locations where Openreach is trialling electric vehicles in a bid to drive down the company’s carbon footprint.

[1] Based on Ofcom data for average UK broadband speed

[2] According to the independent thinkbroadband.com, which takes into account all providers