It’s been more than a year since York embarked upon its mission to become the Digital Infrastructure Capital of the North. Business editor Laura Knowlson takes a look at the progress of the city’s broadband revolution.
AS well as traffic, cyclists and the now annual marathon, there’s another force running through York. Extending from within the ancient walls to the outer reaches of the city runs one of the largest city-wide internet fibre networks in the UK.
Launched last new year, the York CORE is pure fibre network, running throughout the city, connecting 110 sites including council offices, schools and data centres with gigabit speed services.
Following its launch to enhance public sector internet efficiency, CityFibre, the network owner, has been working alongside service provider partners to help York’s businesses take advantage of the pure fibre infrastructure in the city, and bring high-speed, high-quality connectivity services to businesses in York.
The aim was that by March last year, 80 per cent of York businesses would be within 200 metres of the 103km network owned by CityFibre in partnership with City of York Council.
Coun James Alexander, leader of the council, said: “The CORE project has been going well since its launch. In 2012, only 5.7 per cent of premises in York had access to super fast broadband, that was against the UK average of 7.3 per cent.
“Now we have 17 per cent, and have actually overtaken the national average which is 16 per cent.
“The other indicator we are doing well on is premises with the opportunity to access superfast broadband. In 2012 that was 70.5 per cent ,which was higher than the UK average of 65 per cent. Since then the UK average has gone up to 73 per cent but the York figure has risen too, to 78.1 per cent.
“Progress has been made in terms of connecting businesses to the CORE, but we want to see an even better environment, and we want to see more household connectors.
“In 2013 we were behind the national average for households connected to superfast broadband.
“Having access to superfast broadband is hugely important. Connectivity is important in terms of having a global economy, as many of our businesses are trading internationally. Superfast broadband is a utility that businesses need, like water or electricity. We need to do everything we can to make sure there is access to Superfast broadband.”
One of the partner organisations of the CORE is York Data Services (YDS), based at York Science Park. After providing a gigabit private network to the science park the company was well placed to become a delivery partner for the CORE.
Mark Fordyce, managing partner of YDS and digital industry representative on Science City York, explained: “The way I describe it is the CORE is like a big pipe. But even if the pipe is provided you still need someone to fill it, and that’s where we come in. Initially, the core was all about delivering council services but getting value for money.
“Previously, they were spending it on many different types of networks. By building one it made sense and was a good opportunity to build something with gigabit speed across the whole of the council service.
“The CORE has allowed us to expand our gigabyte network that would have been provided to other businesses on the Science Park, to expand beyond the reach of the park, and now we can start to give the service right across York. It’s still early days in terms of business accessibility and it will only be open to businesses of a certain size. We have still got to educate everybody, but we are getting there.”
Mr Fordyce expects the initiative to be boosted next month when the council rolls out a new voucher scheme helping qualifying businesses with funding towards the initial capital expenditure of accessing the CORE’s fibre.
Mr Fordyce said: “Fibre lines currently link up all the council buildings, and that’s where the potential is for businesses. A tail can be dug into the core for every business out there, and we already have a few are about to go live.
“This year is going to be an education process, and we are about to go into sales drive mode. 2014 looks like a fantastic year for business interest in that sort of technology infrastructure.
“York along with the CORE and the other services available is one of the best connected cities in the UK.”
The York CORE project runs alongside the local authority’s Super-Connected Cities plan, which includes improved links for outer York companies and at business parks, as well as better wifi connectivity across the city centre and on key public transport routes, such as Park&Ride.
The plans sit hand in hand with City of York Council’s ambitions to turn the historic Guildhall into a digital media and arts centre for 250 businesses belonging to the city’s growing creative and digital media industry.
With the first wifi bus services due to go live this summer, and preparation works for Guildhall transformation about to get unde way, 2014 look set to be a year of embracing York’s digital scene.
Coun Alexander said: “We have the first bus services with internet access going live this summer. It’s likely that they will be the Park&Ride service initially.
“In terms of the Guildhall, we are about to have the roof repaired as that has been leaking for some time.
“We need to make sure that the building is invested in and continues as an important part of York’s heritage before the other changes can happen. That project is still progressing. There is currently three times demand for that kind of space for digital media businesses, compared with what can currently be satisfied in York. When you look at our economic growth, a significant proportion of that is from new media and digital media businesses. We need a base so that can continue to grow.”
The council’s cabinet has approved plans to use £400,000 from a pre-agreed pot of £1.4 million for the work.