Digital connectivity: week note 22/05/2020

This is the first week note in what will hopefully become a semi-regular feature. We’re hoping this will help us share what we are doing, and join up the dots with people working on related things, like digital inclusion.

This week’s note focuses on work to roll-out full fibre broadband to council housing. After a short hiatus during the early stage of the pandemic, we are now picking this up again.

Full fibre wayleave for social housing

This is about agreeing a master wayleave with broadband providers to get full fibre connections installed to our housing stock (c. 33,000 homes), so that tenants and leaseholders can access high speed broadband services. The wayleave is effectively a legal permission to install cabling and equipment in Council properties. We want to bundle this with requirements to deliver comprehensive coverage across the borough (connecting a minimum number of homes) and to support social value initiatives to improve digital inclusion.

Good things

We now have a trello board focussed specifically on getting the legal agreement done and dusted. Georgia Lazari is drafting the wayleave text, and Donna Bryce is helping us to get the associated ‘constraints document’ ready – fire safety, asbestos management, and working methods.

We now have 3 broadband providers who are keen to sign the wayleave, all of whom have indicated they can meet coverage requirements. This means more choice for residents, and more competition among providers – which we think is a good thing.

Providers are making flexible social value offers: free connections for sites of our choosing, subsidised packages for residents in financial hardship, digital inclusion support, and taking on apprentices.

We published the summary report for the tenant & leaseholder consultation that took place last year. One of the things about surveys is that there is often a lot of pressure to get them done, but not so much interest in using the results or closing the feedback loop (and it’s easy to neglect this, especially in a crisis). So we were glad we could finally get this published.

Learned things

Despite being very much a ‘good news story’, it has sometimes felt difficult to make progress with this work. The pandemic has now shone a spotlight on the importance of connectivity and digital inclusion. We’re hoping the new focus will help us unblock things, so we can start delivering value for residents.

Challenges

Social value asks – though we can leverage the wayleave to secure a fantastic range of benefits for residents, sometimes too much choice is a bad thing. We need to pin down what we want to ask for, so we have a clear mandate going into discussions with providers. People like free things, and there are lots of stakeholders with interests here. Henry will be discussing our social value priorities with Members soon so we have clarity and can finalise the wayleave.

Organisational readiness – we are at a difficult stage where we will soon need to start ramping up efforts, but we don’t yet have all of our resources in place, or roles agreed. So we are now clarifying the help we need from colleagues in services like Housing which will be critical to the success of this work. Getting started was always going to be tricky, and it’s good we can surface any problems now.

Timescales – we have said we will aim to get the wayleave finalised by the end of June. Based on past experience, this will be challenging. If we can work as we did during the early weeks of the pandemic and focus on the most important decisions that need to be made, we can get this done. We have learned that teams working collaboratively together can achieve great things.

Acknowledgements

Thanks this week to Donna and Georgia for help with all things connectivity; thanks to Liz for data advice; and thanks to Sandrine and Lindsey for all their work on the housing stock data (which was ready to go when we needed to share it with a provider).

Priorities for the next week/s

  • Getting social value asks agreed by members
  • Resource planning – understanding the resources we need to support the roll-out, and who will do what
  • Working with Housing to progress pilot surveys – providers are willing to do these on a no commitment basis