Gigabit a priority for local councils, 5G not so much

Survey by FarrPoint shows gigabit broadband remains top priority for local authority digital leaders, but 5G is still contentious and there’s lack of focus on net zero 

For the second year running, getting more areas covered by gigabit broadband is the top priority for digital leaders in local councils in England, Scotland and Wales. That’s according to the annual survey conducted by UK-based connectivity consultancy, FarrPoint. The survey was conducted in December with councils from across the UK, with respondents from a range of locations included cities and rural regions. 

Mobile mast, photo courtesy of FarrPoint

Mobile mast, photo courtesy of FarrPoint

Some 47% of respondents chose gigabit rollout as their no. 1 priority and a further 30% put it second. 

The survey also reveals that 51% of respondent councils have an up-to-date digital connectivity strategy – which is up from 43% last year. However, some 11% still have no such strategy at all and 30% lack a digital champion.  

A sizeable majority of respondents (64%) said smart tech could have the greatest impact in social care. However, there has been a small reduction (from 72% to 70%) in councils deploying or considering smart places projects. 

Though respondents said 5G was important to them, no council chose 5G as its top priority for 2024 – suggesting the tech remans contentious. Indeed, ensuring more areas are covered by 4G was generally ranked as a higher priority, suggesting that the additional benefits of 5G are not widely understood.  

There’s been a marked improvement over the past year in readiness for some connectivity services being switched off. Last year, 27% of respondents had not started planning for the migration from copper to fibre broadband; this year, the figure is just 2%.  That said, 21% have still not yet put in place plans for the switch-offs of 2G and 3G, which are already under way. 

Perhaps surprisingly given the need for swift action on tackling climate change, for the second year running respondents gave lowest priority to aligning digital connectivity with net zero targets. There was even a small increase (from 2% to 6%) in those saying net zero was ‘not important’ to the digital department. 

The main barriers to improved digital connectivity were, said respondents, the challenges in the deployment of local infrastructure such as street works, permits and an inconsistent planning process. This was of more concern than lack of central government funding. Cost is the biggest barrier to residential take-up of connectivity services. 

Dr Andrew Muir, Chief Executive at FarrPoint

Dr Andrew Muir, Chief Executive at FarrPoint

Dr Andrew Muir, Chief Executive at FarrPoint, says: ‘It was clear from the responses that many local authorities are under significant financial pressure, which is, at times, leading to a reduced focus on supporting the digital connectivity rollout and take-up of services.  

‘I’d encourage councils to work together with other public bodies, central government and telecoms operators to tackle these challenges, because they are definitely surmountable. Councils could be doing more to encourage take-up of improved connectivity services among their residents. There’s a widely held perception that these are unaffordable but we’ve seen many cases where improved services are just as cheap, or even cheaper, than existing services. 

‘I also hope to see a change in approach to net zero, to reflect the pivotal role that better connectivity can play in achieving the country’s environmental targets. Net zero isn’t someone else’s problem – digital departments can make a significant contribution.’ 

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