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States of Guernsey to invest in recovery by accelerating roll-out of fibre to all homes and businesses

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Monday 13 September 2021

The States Assembly is being asked to support a capped investment in Guernsey's digital infrastructure of up to £12.5m, to accelerate the fibre roll-out.

A joint Policy & Resources Committee and Committee for Economic Development Policy Letter is being submitted setting out the case for a transformative investment in Guernsey's digital infrastructure.

The President of the Policy & Resources Committee, Deputy Peter Ferbrache said:

"Following the election we made this a priority. Businesses, the wider community and indeed government have told us that we need to accelerate the roll-out of fibre so that our digital infrastructure is faster, more resilient and accessible to all. We've listened and acted on this. This is a critical decision for this States, as we are presenting the opportunity to make a significant investment to ensure our island keeps pace with and in some cases overtakes our competitors around the world.

"The Government Work Plan shows that we need 21st century infrastructure to meet our challenges - in the global economy, on skills and education, on digitising public services to cut the cost and size of government.  If the States Assembly agrees this investment, the accelerated roll-out will begin before the end of this year, be finished in 2026, and no-one in our community will be left behind. Importantly, it will also tell the world that Guernsey is investing in its future."

The proposals to the States are for a capped investment in the fibre programme that will be undertaken by Sure in order to roll-out fibre to the premise. Investment will be deployed to accelerate work and achieve a 100% roll-out within the timeframe.

A world class digital infrastructure is a critical requirement for future economic growth and prosperity and is the foundation for a successful and thriving digital economy. It will also enable delivery of social and culturaloutcomes through universal coverage and digital access. The proposed approach will meet the following objectives:

Throughout 2020 and during the first part of 2021 a series of discussions were held with on-island telecoms providers and other interested parties. Proposals were invited from each and these were considered and evaluated using the criteria set out above by a cross-committee Broadband Working Group.  The recommended approach from Sure will achieve an equitable, full island fibre-to-the-premises wholesale broadband network. This will comprise:

Sure has the greatest physical presence and ownership of assets (both in terms of on and off-island cables). It already has a considerable network of fibre laid in the island (over 500km). Currently the broadband network is delivered through Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) with copper circuits providing the final connection to the home. Most households are currently using cooper for the final connection, with VDSL technology allowing maximum connection speeds of circa 100Mbs (Megabits a second). There is already a program of fibre roll-out in place, but under normal investment cycles this would be expected to take well over 10 years to achieve.

Deputy Neil Inder, President of the Committee for Economic Development said:

"It is critical to ensure that everyone in Guernsey gets the benefits of fibre broadband - across geographic areas, across the community and across the economy. It is also critical that there is equity of access to support digital inclusion, which is vital to the long-term upskilling of Guernsey's population and economy.

"We must take our foot off the brakes and enhance Guernsey's digital infrastructure quickly. Guernsey's business representative bodies have emphasised the importance of increased resilience, speed and security to support business; the ongoing digital transformation of government services requires the same. Achieving the target in five years is in line with the quickest of roll-outs in other jurisdictions.

"There will also be on-island economic benefits to the work being undertaken in this way. The overall project will lead to the creation of 75 jobs and of the overall £37.5m of direct investment in this project, £30m (80%) will be in local engineering contractors and suppliers."

Delivering this next generation digital infrastructure capabilities is a critical part of the 'Digital Framework' actions, which form part of the Government Work Plan agreed in July.  This framework builds on the Digital Sector Strategic Framework published in 2017 and will continue to be developed with industry and stakeholders.

Deputy Sasha Kazantseva-Miller, Economic Development Lead for the Digital, Skills and Entrepreneurship said:

"Investment in the digital infrastructure is a key pillar of the evolving Digital Framework. It will underpin our ability to innovate to meet economic, social and environmental challenges as well as enable islanders to acquire the skills needed for the new economy and information society.  The updated Digital Framework is taking a holistic approach to accelerating Guernsey's digital capability that will have a positive influence for our community, third sector, business and government.

"Sure has been an important partner in many aspects of the digital framework to date, not least in relation to digital inclusion.  I look forward to using this piece of work as a platform on which to develop digital inclusion and digital skills further, with Sure."

The role of the States will be to ensure that all properties are connected to the network and that this happens in an accelerated timeline. It would not be economic for any of the telcos to achieve that in Guernsey without some level of government intervention. For that reason, having considered the different mechanisms by which the States could provide that intervention, the Broadband Working Group opted for the most transparent financial intervention - that is, where it would directly support and accelerate the engineering work required, and where it would not provide a competitive advantage to any of the telcos.

Commercial negotiations with Sure have involved the Guernsey Competition and Regulatory Authority and there has also been ongoing consultation with other telcos, in order to ensure that the outcome is fair and open access to the network for all.

The contract will be finalised subject to the States agreeing the propositions in this Policy Letter. The regulator will have sight of the contract, but the contract will not be published more widely due to its commercial sensitivity for both the States and the preferred provider.

A complementary network to the island fibre network will be the provision of a next generation mobile network. The current intention is that steps will be taken to licence this from 2023. As such the States is not being asked to decide on this through this policy letter.  Further work will be undertaken during 2022, with a licensing framework to be debated by the States Assembly prior to any licensing of 5G (or its successor) in 2023.

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