Features: September 26th, 2003

Broadband Brings Council Services to the Living Room

Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council provides services to over 155,000 people in an area covering 33 square miles in the north west of England. The borough has high levels of economic and social deprivation.

The Council has developed an extensive range of information society and information age government initiatives. One of the initiatives allows residents to access council services through the TV in their living room. The initiatives are known as the Community Information Programme. The Programme has resulted in £320m of industrial investment safeguarding 1,600 jobs and creating over 4,000 new jobs in the area.

The Programme is designed to equip the people and businesses of Knowsley with easy access to sophisticated information systems which can educate, inform and empower them with the knowledge to participate fully in the modern economy. It also provides two-way communications. Critical to this is the development of a world class communication infrastructure: a broadband network to support voice, video and data.

A spokesperson from Knowsley MBC said, “The Community Information Programme enables our community to benefit from the information society, improve education and serve the council’s customers through greater interactivity with services and access to information. To make that information available it was clear we needed a new infrastructure”.

The first stage in the Programme was the creation of a broadband network to support voice, video and data. Telewest Communications, in partnership with Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council and Satelcom, has developed this ‘Community Information Network’ (CIN). 160 sites, including schools and libraries, are electronically joined together. This provides the Council with one of the fastest and most secure networks operating within a local authority. The CIN provides enough bandwidth to deliver all council electronic services at speeds much faster than before, and provides long-term sustainability.

The Interactive Television project, which forms part of this programme, provides information services for Knowsley residents via a dedicated TV channel, 24 hours a day. Local people can now access an array of council services from the comfort of their own living room.

In addition, a local history site containing over 2,000 pages of images and text about the area has been developed. The site now provides immediate access to all to the local archives – that were previously only accessible through prior appointment.

Local residents now have the opportunity to harness the power of the latest Information and Communication Technology by :

– Creating Access to ICT multimedia services.

– Improving ICT skills in the community

– Developing communities

– Creating specific content resources (e.g. for schools)

– Ensuring long term technical delivery.

According to latest figures, 6000 people have registered to use the Council’s public e-mail system whilst 272 000 adults have accessed the two one-stop shops which provide computerised information about local services and jobs.

The Council is also providing Internet access via libraries and council office, new opportunities for schools such as on-line interactive projects, access to library material and multimedia projects.

Chris Small, Head of Public Sector, Telewest Business, said, “Knowsley MBC has proven itself as a forward-thinking, technology-driven council. Telewest’s state-of-the-art network has fulfilled Knowsley’s objectives and has provided the council with a network more advanced than those used by many commercial businesses. We are delighted the community is embracing the invaluable resource of the Community Information Network”.

The Community information programme is constantly developing and will include a broader range of multimedia services, video on demand and new applications.