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Cities should not rely on government to improve digital infrastructure

Tuesday, November 25th 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Cities have to build relationships with the private sector and not rely on “large chunks of government grant funding” to improve their digital infrastructure, according to the head of a co-operative group.

Malcolm Corbett, chief executive of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA), said a gigabit infrastructure was the key to creating a ‘smart city’.

INCA is hosting a seminar on Super Connected Cities in Birmingham on 5th December on the digital challenges facing cities.

“The seminar is really aimed at addressing the issue of how cities can improve their digital infrastructure without necessarily resorting to large chunks of state aid,” said Mr Corbett.

“It comes about because in a conversation with Digital Birmingham, we were discussing the fact that companies like CityFibre are developing a whole range of gigabit cities then in the rural space you’ve got the work that BT is doing but also you’ve got companies like Gigaclear putting high speed fibre networks into villages.

“So the question arose – ‘what are the major cities doing about this and how do they address some of those issues?’”

Mr Corbett said councils needed to engage in conversations with private companies willing to invest in cities.

“With CityFibre, in order to make a city attractive to them they need some form of anchor tenancy arrangement, either through public sector aggregation or through private sector services, to mitigate some of the demand risk,” he said.

“It also needs to be of the right scale for a company like CityFibre to address.

“It’s not about demanding large chunks of government grant funding, it’s about the relationships that cities have with the private sector, which can help facilitate private investment companies to put in new, very high capacity, digital infrastructure.”

Among those speaking at the event are Chris Townsend, head of the government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme, Raj Mack of Digital Birmingham, Mark Collins of CityFibre and Hyperoptic’s managing director Dana Tobak.

“Really it’s about how to you make yourself a gigabit city,” added Mr Corbett.

“The fundamental agenda is as more and more cities are announced as doing gigabit cities, what does that actually mean?

“Who are the entrepreneurial guys in the private sector working on this agenda?

“So that includes CityFibre, Hyperoptic, ITS Technology, Community Fibre, we’ve also got wireless guys like UK Broadband involved so its not just about fibre, it’s also about the role of wireless in this.

“We think this is the sort of infrastructure which needs to underpin any range of developments around the ‘smart city’ concept – it is the fundamental infrastructure on which a whole lot of other things can be built.”

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