27 recommendations for local authorities to become connectivity enablers

New Digital Connectivity Forum report says roll-out of gigabit broadband and 5G has been ‘inconsistent’ and wants to see ‘digital champions’ in local authorities 

Local authorities are ‘essential to maintain and accelerate the pace of telecoms deployment.’ That’s the conclusion of the new DCF report produced by consultancy FarrPoint on the roll-out of digital infrastructure.

worm's-eye view photography of concrete bridge

Photo by Julian Paolo Dayag

Between April and July 2023, 31 different organisations took part in the study, including local authorities, government bodies and stakeholders such as telecom operators, mobile network operators, neutral host providers and Ofcom. The aim was to understand what is working well and where challenges exist, and then identify ways to improve things. The report makes 27 recommendations. 

While good practice has been identified good practice, there is inconsistency across industry, local and national government. What’s needed, says the report, is ‘a clear vision, senior buy-in, dedicated resources, clear and consistent policies and processes, and proactive engagement.’ 

Its recommendations begin with a digital champion for each local authority with a clear mandate, and better communication and collaboration between parties. 

Councils are urged to embrace flexible permitting and to work with the telecoms industry so that planning authorities fully understand the technical requirements of 5G and gigabit broadband infrastructure. The government is asked to review planning processes related to pre-planning guidance as well as to analyse the fees applied by planning authorities. 

Alex Mather, Head of the Digital Connectivity Forum, says: ‘Much positive work has taken place, particularly in the terms of legislative changes, over recent years to reduce barriers to the deployment of high-speed fixed and mobile connectivity. This has resulted in real benefits to UK economy and society, with over 70% of homes across the UK having access to gigabit-capable broadband. 

‘However, as this report highlights, challenges remain at a local level especially regarding poor communications and collaboration between local authorities and network builders. This is resulting in high levels of variation between local authority areas in terms of their rollout of both fixed and mobile digital infrastructure.’ 

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, digital connectivity spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA), adds: ‘We have been calling for a local digital champion in every local area, to act as a central point of contact to help extend gigabit-capable broadband and mobile coverage across the country as quickly as possible. Given the right funding and opportunity to work in partnership with Government and providers, councils can play a far greater role targeting communities most in need, driving up demand and providing digital upskilling to support the rollout.’ 

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