Plans to launch next generation broadband in the West Midlands have taken a big step forward after work began on drawing up a strategy.
The City Region board has called for an action plan to be presented to it by September to bring faster internet connection to the city, and a task and finish group is working on the possible roll out.
The move is considered vital for business competitiveness, inward investment, and to encourage finance firms to relocate to the region and create jobs. Organisers introduced the region’s broadband strategy at the NextGen Roadshow at Maple House Conference Centre, Birmingham, yesterday.
City Region board member Glyn Pitchford, who is chairing the task and finish group, said the computer technology hub at the proposed £400 million Walsall Gigaport development could play a key role in the plans.
He said: “The advantages of such a project are not only that next generation broadband would be provided to as many businesses as possible in the region, making the City Region a more competitive centre of business activity, but by linking this to a significant data processing capacity in Walsall, this could improve the business activities of a range of potential users.
“These could be Primary Care Trusts, police, education, back office functions of financial institutions, TV and media companies, international businesses, telecommunications and electronics.”
The Gigaport development, which is set to create 3,000 jobs, is being earmarked as a potential data storage centre for powerful broadband services. Birmingham City Council, Coventry City Council, Telford and Wrekin Council and Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council are at the forefront of the broadband plans.
Mr Pitchford said faster communications speeds were necessary to meet customer demands for information and communication technologies (ICT). City Region hopes the move would convince financial services firms to consider relocating office jobs back to the region from London, potentially creating thousands of high paid jobs.
A report from the task and finish group stated: “It was recognised that other areas of the country were also considering advanced ICT connections and, as a consequence, it would be a vital prerequisite for the City Region that it should not be left behind and lose its competitive edge because of a lack of action in this area.
“However, the key characteristic of particular benefit is the Gigaport in Walsall. This ICT hub can act as a national storage centre for data and can provide valuable spin-off commercial activities such as in media and further education.”
The report continued: “The immediate commercial advantage of next generation broadband would be particularly relevant for inward investors and large businesses with sophisticated data managing requirements.
The Birmingham Post reported in January how experts from BT said Birmingham and the Black Country are “leading the UK” with the development of next generation broadband communications.
The telecoms giant said exchanges supporting more than 77 per cent of its phone and broadband lines in Birmingham were now enabled for next generation broadband services on the company’s pioneering ‘21st Century Network’ platform.