A terrible price will be paid by any community that is trapped in the digital slow lane.
For years, business leaders have complained about failings in the region’s digital infrastructure. These problems can scare off investors and exacerbate social divisions.
The team from CityFibre, the UK’s largest alternative provider of wholesale fibre network infrastructure, aims to ensure that nobody is blighted by poor connections over the new decade.
The company has appointed locally-based Kim Johnston and Stephen Moore as new city development managers (CDMs), to support the implementation of a £150m project to transform Leeds and Huddersfield with a new full-fibre digital infrastructure.
Since 2008, CityFibre has been building and managing Gigabit City networks in Huddersfield, Leeds, Bradford, York, Hull, Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Wakefield. Huddersfield and Leeds are the first to benefit from its strategic partnership with Vodafone in its Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) rollout.
The £120m Leeds investment is expected to deliver major economic benefits for the city, including £192m in boosted productivity and innovation, £92m in new business start-ups and £255m in increased housing wealth.
The £30m Huddersfield investment is expected to unlock £18m in business productivity and £10m in business innovation as well as £11m in driving local growth and creating new jobs. Huddersfield’s residents could also see around £26m added to the value of their homes, according to CityFibre’s analysis.
Kim Johnston, CityFibre’s CDM for Leeds, told Yorkshire Vision: “Our investment in Yorkshire hasn’t just been about providing faster internet and better mobile phone signal in the short-term. It has been about building the foundation for Yorkshire to thrive in future as a smart city and business hub.”
She added: “We already support businesses across Leeds and Huddersfield with full-fibre connectivity and we are excited to have recently connected our first residential customers in both locations, enabling them to obtain gigabit speeds at home.
“We’re particularly pleased to be starting our Leeds build in the southern areas of the city that are a real area of focus for regeneration and bringing them on to a much more competitive footing.
“Digital investment can transform communities and we’re working with as many organisations as possible to raise awareness of the opportunities this provides.”
But why have they decided to invest in Yorkshire?
Ms Johnston said: “When it comes to full fibre, Yorkshire is literally kilometres ahead of other parts of the UK and this dense infrastructure provides the ideal fibre backbone to reach almost every home and business in our selected project towns and cities.”
York City Council, Kirklees Council and Leeds City Council have played significant roles in supporting CityFibre’s investment in the region.
Ms Johnston said: “Beyond the wealth of existing infrastructure, few UK regions have embraced the digital age more readily than Yorkshire and it is emerging as a real hub for digital industries. This next generation of businesses require full-fibre connectivity that can match their ambition and that’s what we’re providing.
“The support from local businesses and councils has also been instrumental and there is a real appetite and enthusiasm from businesses across Yorkshire that is enabling our work in the region to really take flight.”
Full fibre is around 20 times faster than the UK’s average business connections. This means that as businesses in Yorkshire scale up, or technology evolves, they won’t have to worry about strains on bandwidth, and it is hoped this will provide a major boost for productivity.
Ms Johnston believes it also sets the stage for a post-Brexit Northern Powerhouse that can compete with digital economies in Europe where full fibre has long been the standard.
Ms Johnston added: “All our networks are built in line with our ‘Well Planned City’ model, accommodating current and future capacity requirements from the public and private sectors, mobile operators and data-centre providers. In essence, they are built to last.
“Beyond the network itself, we are engaging with communities in Huddersfield and Leeds to build knowledge, inspire the next generation at schools and ultimately educate people on the exciting digital career paths and opportunities that our network is generating.
“CityFibre’s full fibre infrastructure will support extensive digital transformation throughout the region – benefitting schools, health and social care, businesses and public services, as well as bringing the potential for vastly improved mobile network services.
“It will make cities and towns more innovative, more productive and give a digital boost to whole economies.”
Stephen Moore, CityFibre’s CDM for Huddersfield, said: “Our projects in Yorkshire are set to enhance the region’s standing as an internationally competitive digital location. We are transforming the online world at home, increasing productivity and driving economic growth by creating new jobs and enticing further inward investment.
“We’re already seeing the difference on a local level. We recently connected a community coffee shop in Huddersfield, owned by Global Diversity Positive Action (GDPA) that was suffering from major connectivity problems. It’s now one of the stand-out hubs for internet in the town and this will be instrumental for retaining business.”
Ms Johnston added: “Our core ambition is to deliver future-proof digital infrastructure that will transform Yorkshire and Britain’s digital landscape for years to come.
“In each of the communities we build in, we also want to inspire parents and the younger generation to see the possibilities that full-fibre connectivity can bring to their lives. We want as many people as possible to take advantage of its potential and for everyone to have the same opportunities and ability to benefit from advances in technology.
“We are working with partnership organisations such as Ahead Partnership and MakerTopia to inspire young people to consider careers in the digital sector, and consider the potential of full-fibre technology and the impact on their lives.”
The Leeds-based Ahead Partnership is a social enterprise which encourages businesses to mentor pupils to help make them more employable.
For more than a decade, the partnership’s founder, Stephanie Burras, has been campaigning tenaciously to tackle the social and economic problems caused by Britain’s terrible skills deficit. With help from CityFibre, Yorkshire children from a wide variety of backgrounds will soon be able to enter the digital fast lane.
It is hoped CityFibre’s investment will ensure the region’s economy gets off to a roaring start in the 2020s.