Policy Option 20: Digital Infrastructure

  1. The Oxfordshire Digital Infrastructure Strategy sets out that society is increasingly dependent on high quality digital infrastructure provision for our everyday needs.  This was thrown into focus during the recent COVID-19 pandemic where digital provision was key in enabling many people to continue to work and access services and facilities remotely. However, the trend towards a more digital world was already happening before then, with a move to cloud storage and applications, the increasing trend and requirements around homeworking, and the significant growth in video-on demand content. Demand for high quality digital connections is only going to grow in the future with the move towards Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence.

  1. The Oxfordshire Digital Infrastructure and the national Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review outlines that in order to provide for this more digital world there is a need to focus on roll out of both full fibre broadband (allowing for reliable internet speeds of up to 1Gbps/ 1,000 Mbps), and the infrastructure needed to support deployment of 5G mobile technology. The review targets near 85% nationwide coverage of full fibre by 2025, and deployment of 5G to the majority of the country by 2027. In short, it is expected that full fibre and 5G mobile coverage should be norm within 5 to 10 years. The rollout of enhanced digital infrastructure is vital for rural and urban Oxfordshire. 

  1. In practical terms, full fibre provision relies on the effective laying of fibre optic cabling, whilst 5G depends on traditional mast mounted equipment and also small cell deployment. Small cell technology is in turn dependent on mobile transmitters every 100m or so, and most transmitters require a fibre connection. Both technologies therefore need to be planned together when being rolled out in a particular area, such as a new development.

  1. Para 112 of the NPPF (2019) makes clear that planning policies should ‘support the expansion of electronic communication networks, including next generation mobile technology (such as 5G) and full fibre broadband connections.

  1. The benefits of providing this infrastructure at the outset of new development are:

  • Allowing delivery of 'smart homes' that help residents in their day-to-day lives, for example by better controlling heating to reduce energy consumption;
  • Allowing residents to work from home or local offices reducing the need for commuting;
  • Ensuring that all new residents have full access to high quality digital provision from when moving in, making sure that they are not digitally excluded;
  • Giving new residents live provision of real-time integrated public transport information where journeys are necessary; 
  • Allowing for provision of sensors in homes of vulnerable people to enable access to services and permitted monitoring of live health data; and;
  • Facilitation of a Living Labs environment to trial new technology.

Policy Options

  1. An Oxfordshire-wide approach will ensure that all development proposals take into account national strategy and guidance as well as securing the scale of investment needed to secure a full rollout of investment.

Preferred Policy Option

Policy Option 20: Digital Infrastructure

In this approach all new residential and business developments would plan for the provision of fixed and mobile technology from the outset.

Full fibre broadband connectivity should be provided, with full ducting for use of fibre cabling to be designed and laid out during the construction of development. 

Alongside any other supporting infrastructure, this should also provide and support roll out of 5G mobile technology throughout the development.

Infrastructure providers should ensure works are effectively co-ordinated with other parties, including the Highway Authority.

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