A group of the region’s leading businesses came together at the Westwood Restaurant in Beverley to discuss “The importance of digital connectivity in Hull and solving the next piece of the digital puzzle”, as CityFibre continues to expand its full-fibre network in the city.

The debate brought together business leaders and key decision makers to discuss the issues that currently surround the city’s digital connectivity. It focused on the demand for choice in regards to service providers, the growth of Hull’s digital sector and the uptake of full-fibre to fulfil the needs of local businesses in the city.

Hull is in a unique position to other UK cities in that it has a relatively long-established fibre network thanks to earlier investment from KCOM and more recently, CityFibre. The latter has seen the city achieve Gigabit City status; positioning Hull for accelerated digital growth, increased inward investment and greater economic development.

As a result, Hull is emerging as a key driver in the uptake of full-fibre across the UK. The focus of this, and of the wider connectivity debate therefore is to encourage the city’s businesses to realise the competitive advantage this presents and utilise the network they have to hand in order to achieve their, and the region’s, full digital potential.

In attendance at the debate were Martin Kemp and Marc Lough from CityFibre, the founder of Meehan Media & Comms, John Meehan, John Connolly from C4DI, Lindsey Nicklin from the University of Hull, Emma Warwick from Hull City Council, Glen Poskitt from Sewell Group, David Hooper from the Hull Chamber of Commerce and Adrian Bolster from PureSpeed. Chair for the event was Gary King from Tendo.

The overarching question of having a choice of connectivity provider in Hull began the debate; every city outside of Hull has a range of connectivity providers in which businesses can choose from. And with choice comes a number of benefits; Marc Lough from CityFibre stated “the three main benefits of competition are better quality of service, more aggressive pricing and more innovative service offerings.”

The Tech Nation 2017 report stated that there are nearly 7,000 digital jobs across Hull and over £250m GVA from the digital sector to the city’s economy. As businesses use more digital capacity to help them evolve, innovate, grow and remain competitive in the new digital age, there is a developing need for better connectivity options.

The debate highlighted the need for well-connected office spaces in Hull, John Meehan whose business is based in the C4DI building, stated that: “We’re partly based there [C4DI] because the connectivity is excellent. I would make a judgement about where I base my business, the connectivity would always be one of the first things I would look at and I know I’d pay a premium for it.”

The public sector has also identified that the city’s digital economy provides a real opportunity for the region and that this must be supported where possible. Emma Warwick from Hull City Council referenced a current bid for EU funding for a digital voucher scheme which will provide businesses in Hull with the opportunity to invest in digital technology, including the ability to access gigabit speed connectivity, to improve their business performance and achieve growth. A trial of the scheme, which ran at the beginning of the year, saw a phenomenal uptake by businesses across the city region.

There must, however, be some awareness around what is available to businesses in the region. David Hooper from the Hull Chamber of Commerce stated that “connectivity awareness is extremely important to make people understand what is available to them, but we also need to take into consideration whether people actually think about it when looking for new premises. Smaller businesses may look at how affordable the office space is and assume the connectivity they need will be there.” John Connolly from C4DI added “there’s definitely a need for educating businesses about why they might be getting poor speed and how they can get a better one.”

In many cities across the UK transport infrastructure features much higher up on the agenda than digital infrastructure. But it was apparent from the discussions that Hull has a very different view on its infrastructure priorities. Emma Warwick stated that “transport and digital infrastructure are very much linked. Making our existing transport infrastructure work better with things like smart parking and is very much reliant on ensuring we have the digital infrastructure in place to support it.”

The debate highlighted that the need for choice and healthy competition is paramount in helping not only the digital sector in Hull continue to succeed but also to support Hull’s growing business economy. Awareness is of utmost importance in educating businesses about the technologies and services available to them supported by the public sector’s commitment to support the city’s infrastructure.

With local telecoms provider PureSpeed as its launch partner, CityFibre opened a next-generation full fibre network to local businesses in the city in September last year. The network, which spans 62km across Hull, provides businesses with some of the fastest download and upload speeds in the world and, for the first time, offers them a choice of connectivity provider.

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