Digital Matters: Telecoms Strategy

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Whether it’s running a start-up business, communicating with global customers, running a multi-million pound eGaming business, watching boxsets on Netflix, doing online shopping, booking a holiday or helping your kids with their homework, life without reliable connectivity is hard to contemplate.

We would all agree that the Isle of Man is a special place to live and work; I am sure that we would also agree that living and working without robust telecommunications makes life harder – the millennial version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs certainly seems to bear this out!

It’s clear that digitalisation is a strong enabler for economic growth and social inclusion, and it is changing the way businesses operate. Websites, apps, social media, cloud computing, big data, tablets, e-commerce: these technologies are among the trends of today that are changing the way our residents and businesses live and work… now, and into the future.

The Island is already well served by two full-service telecoms companies, providing fixed line, mobile and 4G data services to residential customers and corporate customers, along with other Island businesses who provide a range of services such as data centres, cloud solutions, international connectivity and private circuits. We will continue to encourage investment in their infrastructure and product offerings to help achieve the Government’s vision: that the Isle of Man becomes a truly tech-enabled Island with digital commerce, data centres, fintech and digital health services all delivered over a fast, reliable telecoms infrastructure.

The Department for Enterprise’s Digital Agency is responsible for the digital sector in the Isle of Man, spanning the Island’s international eGaming industry, successful digital economy and innovative digital media sector. Digital Isle of Man works with Government, private industry and key associations to create the right environment for the sector to flourish and, as such, is a key stakeholder in the successful implementation of the National Telecoms Strategy to ensure that any benefits to the sector are maximised.

To this end, the Department for Enterprise has been focusing its attention on the development of a telecoms infrastructure which seeks to put the Isle of Man at the forefront of telecoms innovation. This includes benefits to the Island such as access to ultrafast broadband with speeds of up to 1Gbps within the next five years, a fast and reliable telecoms infrastructure to allow businesses the opportunity to roll out 5G in the future, and the appropriate foundations in place to benefit both residents and businesses, as well as grow and develop new and existing sectors on the Island.

If the Government’s aims are to be achieved, we need to address the following:

Robust telecoms will help support a strong, growing economy where businesses and people are connected.

A strong telecoms sector supports the delivery of the Programme for Government and builds a sustainable future as a modern, digital island.

The Island has been at the cutting edge of technology and has the opportunity to lead in this area once again.

The Island is at risk of falling behind other jurisdictions which have clear strategies and a direction of travel; we are competing in a global field.

The Island has recently slipped down industry league broadband speed tables.

After many months of collaboration and consultation with the public, industry representatives and the Communications Commission, the National Telecoms Strategy was unanimously approved by Tynwald in October 2018. Based over six key themes and 22 strategic actions, the document seeks to position the Isle of Man at the forefront of telecoms innovation, with a telecommunications infrastructure that is recognised as being world class.  

The six themes include regulatory reform that will further foster competition and investment, and securing two new subsea fibre routes to complement the existing five that are already in place. Together with a national broadband plan, we will seek to support the Island-wide rollout of fibre past premises within five years.

Making it Happen: For any strategy to be successful it needs political support and executive resource to achieve quick, tangible results. The Council of Ministers agreed that the telecoms policy should have clear ownership and be fully resourced. The Strategy commits the Department for Enterprise to deliver Council’s aim in this regard.

Regulation and Legislation: Modern, adaptive and responsive regulation is seen as key in encouraging market confidence, innovation and investment. Council will support regulatory reform and the Commission in its review of its process, procedures and structure on enactment of the Communications Bill. This will be a powerful stimulus.

National Broadband Plan: World class broadband is essential to ensure the Island’s future prosperity. Working with partners the Council of Ministers will support a solution which provides ultrafast fibre broadband past more than 99% of premises.

Subsea Cables: Connectivity to global markets and services through our undersea infrastructure is critical to the success of the Island. The economic reliance on modern and resilient undersea cables cannot be underestimated and two new fibre routes will be delivered as part of the Strategy.

Planning and Way Leaves: The installation of telecoms services and infrastructure on both public and private owned land are controlled through planning legislation. The Strategy will support the modernisation of legislation to facilitate the implementation of new telecoms initiatives such as 5G.

Government Operations: Government has, through e-llan, the wholly owned subsidiary of Manx Utilities, helped drive down the cost of on and off island fibre connections. Its place in the market going forward is unclear and needs clarification. We will work with e-llan to support the delivery of the Strategy maximising the use of government assets including deployed fibre, ducts and poles.

The Department for Enterprise has now begun an open market process to identify how best to deliver fibre past 99% of premises in the Isle of Man. This will allow businesses and households who want fibre services to gain access to ultrafast fibre broadband with speeds of up to 1Gbps. The timescale for the roll out of the network will aim to be five years and will help elevate the Island’s position in world broadband speed league tables. This Island-wide fibre network will deliver fast, reliable telecommunication services and support future rollouts of 5G. 

We will continue to work towards the Island enjoying high value, high quality telecoms at an affordable cost in a well-regulated regime. The Isle of Man is indeed a special place to live and work: this Strategy will ensure it remains so for future generations.

Richard Oliphant is the Head of Telecommunications Policy and Strategy for the Department of Enterprise with responsibility for the creation and delivery of the recently released National Telecoms Strategy.  Richard has 25 years’ experience in the telecommunications and IT sectors as an engineer, programme manager and strategist.   Richard has held senior positions in a number of areas including spending time as Head of Service Delivery for the Government Technology Services and Head of Technology and Licencing with the Island’s regulator, the Communications Commission.