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Councils urged to build collaboration for connectivity


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Connectivity abstract
Image source: Supprasert

Local authorities need to strengthen their collaborations with the telecoms industry to improve the availability of gigabit-capable broadband and 5G in their areas, according to a new report.

Published by the Digital Connectivity Forum, an advisory group to the UK Government, it identifies four themes and makes a series of recommendations for policy makers and the industry to boost roll out of connectivity infrastructure.

Titled Local Authorities as Connectivity Enablers, the report was compiled through a series of interviews with stakeholders and says that, while there has been progress, the targets for coverage keep rising and there is a need to increase the momentum.

Councils play an important role through their authority over planning decisions and they need to improve communications with other parties. There is also a need for policies and guidance to be up to date and aligned with the requirements of existing and future technologies.

The report’s prime conclusions are that: the use of public assets to support connectivity is varied, often hindered by poor data and complicated site agreements; telecoms operators have questioned the role of agents in providing advice to local authorities; but there is a willingness to allow public assets to be used for deployment.

Engagement, planning, regulation

It says the effort should be focused around four themes: communication and engagement; more consistent planning; a better regulatory regime for street and roadworks; and the role of local authorities as landlords and site providers for infrastructure.

Each of these involve a series of measures, including that central government should review the processes in pre-planning guidance and analyse fees applied by planning authorities to ensure the deployment of infrastructure is not held back; and that it should run a communications programme to help councils understand the technical requirements of high speed broadband and 5G.

Local authorities should each have a digital champion, with roles that are clearly defined and adequately funded, and work closely with telecoms operators on educating planning authorities of the technical requirements.

They should also embrace flexible permitting for relevant street works and be ready to take part in trials of their use.

Broadband benefits

Alex Mather, head of the Digital Connectivity Forum, said: “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 roll out of both fixed and mobile digital infrastructure.”

Steve Smith, principal consultant at FarrPoint – the consultancy that carried out the research – said: “Communication between local authorities, central government and telecom operators is the key component to success, so we would like to see industry and local government openly sharing best practices and simply talking to each other more.”

The proposal for digital champions in every local authority has won support from the Local Government Association. Its digital connectivity spokesperson, Cllr Mark Hawthorne, said: “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 roll out."


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