Leeds City Council Set to Consider Plan for New Full Fibre Network

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Next week’s meeting of the Executive Board for Leeds City Council in Yorkshire looks set to approve a procurement process for finding a partner to build and deliver a new “full fibre” network, which will aim to deliver Gigabit broadband speeds to public sector sites across the district. Homes and businesses may also benefit.

Under the plan the council would act as an anchor tenant for the contract, which they say could also help to “accelerate the wider roll out of FTTP to residential and commercial premises adjacent to LCC buildings and routes.” If successful the Council would then hope to “make the Leeds metropolitan district the largest Gigabit and 5G capable city outside of London.”

At this point it’s worth remembering that Cityfibre and Vodafone UK have already pledged to invest £120m in order to expand the coverage of their 1Gbps FTTH broadband ISP network across Leeds by the end of 2021 (here), which could benefit around 225,000 premises. On top of that Openreach (BT) has named Leeds as one of their “Fibre First” cities (here) and Virgin Media’s ultrafast cable network also has significant coverage in the area.

Suffice to say that local connectivity is already set for a major improvement over the next few years and the council hopes to support that. We note LCC already spends around £1.2m per annum on a Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity under the current PSN contract with VirginMedia Business (sub-Gigabit speeds), which may also be affected by the new proposal.

Aims of the Leeds Full Fibre Programme

* Develop a full fibre network to serve every school within the Leeds MD (297 schools) allowing schools across the district to access the best possible connectivity

* Provide connectivity to 293 Council Buildings and 156 NHS buildings

* Provide connectivity to residents within the LCC social housing portfolio (first phase 116 tower blocks, c.9,500 residents)

* Provide connectivity to the LCC CCTV network to support Safer Leeds initiatives

* Explore how to use other assets within the Council’s ownership to facilitate the extension of full fibre networks and gigabit connectivity

* Support and encourage commercial investment in full fibre infrastructure across Leeds and the city region

The cost of all this is still unclear, although LCC’s initial affordability envelope is said to be £16.6m in capital to deliver a full fibre build (leaving £450k revenue to support a managed service annually). However a soft market test suggested that the total programme costs could range from £32m to £58m (includes capital and revenue spend and is considered very close to the current financial envelope for 293 Council sites).

Council Report Statement

As a large organisation with significant connectivity requirements and a large asset base, the Council could significantly influence the infrastructure position of the city. The amount of telecommunications network design, build and deployment work required to achieve a successful implementation of a gigabit fibre optic network would provide an enabling backbone of fibre-optic broadband connectivity to parts of the district which have not previously benefitted from commercial investment programmes by incumbent operators.

It is anticipated that the creation of a full fibre digital infrastructure will be an attractive commercial investment opportunity for telecommunications network wholesalers and operators, who will want to ‘build on’ to this new provision in order to deliver broadband and possibly 5G services to residents and businesses. This aligns with the Council’s inclusive growth ambitions to bring a choice of connectivity types and providers to residents and businesses in Leeds.

Further details of the proposed project can be found here and we understand that LCC intends to engage with Virgin Media, Openreach and CityFibre to understand their investment plans for the city and to make them aware of their own plans. A decision on all this is expected to be taken next week on 13th February.

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