The Council and democracy Manchester Digital Strategy 2021 – 2026

Theme 4: Sustainable Resilience

Sustainable Resilience is the point at which the Digital Strategy connects to and helps achieve Manchester’s commitment to become a zero-carbon city by 2038, and meet the many challenges presented by climate change. It is about how we can use technology to directly reduce our carbon emissions, but also about how technology will help us mitigate against the impact of a changing climate.  

It is also where we ensure that we keep looking forwards and can rapidly adopt and adapt to new technology as it emerges, keeping Manchester at the leading edge of digital transformation in all its forms. This is in part about how we plan and manage infrastructure and services to ensure they are open and accessible.  

Finally, Sustainable resilience is also about connectivity, and how in a world that is increasingly digitised, we need to make sure that everyone can access digital services and resources. It is about making sure these networks are in place and that they are accessible to all. 

Sustainable Resilience case study – Cooperative Network Infrastructure 

Cooperative Network Infrastructure (CNI) – the GM Digital Coop 

Using an innovation called the ‘Thin Layer Model’, Cooperative Network Infrastructure (CNI) - https://cni.coop/ - promotes collaboration between owners and users of digital infrastructure. Members include local authorities and other public-sector bodies alongside private-sector telecoms operators and Internet providers.  

CNI started in 2018 as an initiative of Tameside Council in Greater Manchester. Since then other local authorities have joined including Manchester City Council, Blackpool, Mid Sussex, Lancaster and West Sussex county. Other public sector partners include NHS trusts, education institutions and social housing providers. Commercial members include Virgin Media, CityFibre, Zayo, euNetworks, ITS and Telcom, alongside smaller ISPs.   

CNI is a cooperative neutral host: user members (generally the telecoms operators and ISPs) get access to raw infrastructure (dark fibre and colocation space) on equal terms and non-exclusively. Most of the dark fibre available from CNI is ‘spine’ fibre, deployed by the contributor members (mostly public sector bodies) to meet their needs. CNI pays the contributor members a fee and makes spare capacity in the spine available to user members, who then build out to connect customers. Because it makes sharing possible, CNI delivers mutual benefits for users, contributors and the wider community:  

  • Local authorities and public sector bodies can invest in infrastructure for their own use and share it for the benefit of the local economy and wealth creation.  
  • By sharing the spine infrastructure, commercial operators can invest in new access networks without needing to overbuild competitors, so they can deploy faster and there is less disruption for the community.  
  • Smaller and local ISPs and operators can access dark fibre and colocation. This means they can capture more of the value chain, innovate and differentiate their products from larger competitors. 

Why Sustainable Resilience? 

Digital technologies have a specific role in supporting action on climate change and zero carbon targets. Digital can be transformational for the environmental agenda and offer very practical solutions for current and future action. New, low carbon opportunities can be realised through enhanced digital connectivity and data analytics, especially in areas such as mobility, logistics, food and buildings, supporting sourcing of energy from green sources to improving air quality and encouraging more walking and cycling. Digital can also help create a new smart circular economy where local sourcing is the norm and product information can be made more accessible and easier to analyse with repair and recycling facilities more widely known and understood, with makerspaces and other digital production facilities able give products longer lifecycles. 

Manchester and the wider city-region has the opportunity to capitalise on the infrastructure and connectivity that has been created to date but also to look to the future and find ways of staying ahead of the curve for future digital infrastructure. This means new models of delivery and finding ways that digital infrastructure can be delivered as an essential utility, ideally unlimited, not just as a commodity. The City Council has been highlighting the importance of investment in digital infrastructure for “developing a more resilient city” in all parts of its current work on inclusive economic recovery and this is also a key element of the Our Manchester “Inclusive Economy” Local Industrial Strategy.  This can be achieved by developing our existing partnership with Tameside MBC to extend the original Cooperative Network Infrastructure (CNI – also known as Digital Coop) duct and fibre installations to more public, research and innovation locations across the city to provide faster and more resilient connectivity. 

During the pandemic there have failures of digital infrastructure and Manchester’s innovation ecosystem needs more resilient future-proofed Internet in two particular areas: 

  1. Topological resilience – new spine fibre connections connecting key nodes by diverse routes;  
  2. Commercial resilience – which must be made available on neutral non-exclusive basis so that multiple ISPs and operators can use it. This increases diversity of supply, competition and the scope for innovation, hence the use of the cooperative neutral host model.  

Commercial resilience means that there is enhanced futureproofing because of the diversity of supply which is less prone to stress or failure. This in turn provides new opportunities for local and smaller digital/tech businesses to add value with access to infrastructure (rather than services) that otherwise would not be available to them. In addition the public sector has more choice in its procurements and greater access to innovation and new services and applications. 

Digital resilience is created by building the “scaffolding” from which Internet Service Providers – ISPs, operators and other SMEs providing specialist services can then build out to reach more customers more easily and effectively – both public sector and others in the innovation ecosystem. That in turn means: more scope and scale for fibre spines and shared neutral digital exchanges which thus encourages more investment. Operators can choose their areas, for example, they don’t need to ‘roll out’ across the conurbation to achieve scale but can instead share and co-produce connectivity which also means smaller and local ISPs and operators, including new start-ups, can take part, increasing productivity and growing new markets.  

What will Sustainable Resilience achieve? 

Sustainable Resilience aims to:  

  • Use digital and technology to drive a green and inclusive economy, supporting our transition to a zero-carbon city. 
  • Use digital infrastructure and innovation to create a smarter, more resilient and future-proofed city 
  • Make digital connectivity a universal utility that is accessible to everyone, wherever they are. 

By harnessing digital and technology to reduce carbon emissions, futureproof the city and ensure connectivity is a universal utility we will achieve the following outcomes: 

  • Increase the number of community and cooperatively owned infrastructure and networks. 
  • Improved environmental credentials of digital initiatives and programmes. 

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