10 September 2014

‘Digital exchange’ to be city’s broadband powerhouse

Brighton & Hove could soon have its own ‘digital exchange’, offering ultrafast cost-effective broadband for local creative and digital companies.

The city council is considering allocating space for the electronic hardware involved in under-used areas of its New England House complex near Brighton Station.  The authority would also make available £520,000 in grants to help a number of private firms set up the Brighton Digital Exchange (BDX).  It would spend a further £80,000 re-cabling New England House to connect firms within.

No taxpayers money would be used.  Instead the council would channel funds it has already won from the government’s Super Connected Cities Programme (SCCP).  Under government rules this would have to be spent by March 2015.

The exchange represents the second major initiative to improve the city’s broadband capacity.  The council is already offering grants up to £3000 for small companies and voluntary bodies to improve their broadband speeds. Details of how to apply are on the council’s website.

There would be a fire-proof host room in New England House with racks of servers and switching equipment, connected to a non-interruptable power supply.  It would be let for a peppercorn rent until the project was paying its way.

The exchange would also provide a link to the London Internet Exchange (LINX), offering further benefits in connectivity and cost.

Key features of digital exchanges are a means of shifting internet traffic between networks and servers, office space for creative and digital companies that use them and the fact they are run collaboratively by many businesses.  They work on the principle of ‘peering’, with participating networks exchanging data to their mutual benefit, rather than buying or selling it.

Wired Sussex is acting as an agent for founding members of the exchange.

The BDX is a key part of the City Deal agreement between the Greater Brighton region and the government. This includes a £4.9m investment to expand and upgrade New England House, creating nearly 900 new jobs.

A report to the next economic development and culture committee asks councillors to approve the principle of allocating the host room space at peppercorn rent, offering the grants to set up the exchange and re-cabling in New England House.  A copy of the report is among the agenda papers here.

Committee chair Cllr Geoffrey Bowden said:  “It sounds complex but this is basically about giving the talented digital and creative people here the workshop and the tools they need to flourish.  Creative and digital will be our big industry.  This exchange will be a foundation stone of our economic future – akin to the Royal Pavilion, the railway station or the Brighton Conference Centre in terms of its significance.”