A councillor's guide to digital connectivity

Digital connectivity is an all-encompassing term used to describe mobile or fixed connections to the internet. Being connected in this way has become part of the fabric of everyday life – as important to communities and businesses as a water, gas or electricity connection.

Digitalllll

With better access to high speed and reliable broadband and mobile connections, local communities can access public services more conveniently and purchase goods online at a lower cost. People can work from home, cutting out their commute and improving their quality of life. Businesses can grow, become more productive, sell their products in a global market and access a raft of services not available to those offline. Tourists can find out more information about local attractions and share photographs of their experiences with friends and on social media. In contrast, areas stuck in the digital slow lane are less attractive places to live, work and visit, and risk being left behind as other areas reap the benefits of our digital revolution.

At the national level, the Government has set out its ambitions to build ‘a world-class digital infrastructure’ and has committed to rolling out nationwide full fibre broadband coverage by 2033 and increase geographic mobile coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by 2022. However, the job of connecting the UK is far from complete.

While most people in the UK are connected to a basic broadband connection (defined later in this guide), there remain too many communities where streaming a movie at home or even sending pictures to friends and family via email is considered a luxury.

These poorly connected areas aren’t just in out of the way hamlets deep in the countryside. Some inner-city areas such as Rotherhithe, in London, Deansgate in Manchester and the Baltic Triangle in Liverpool, have average speeds well below the Government’s minimum aspiration.

Similarly, while many parts of the country take for granted the existence of ever-present, high-quality mobile connectivity, there are significant gaps in coverage. These gaps are usually found in rural communities, where residents suffer from partial mobile coverage, where not all mobile network operators cover an area, or ‘not spots’, where a mobile phone will not be able to make a call on any network.


As technology continues to evolve, it is vital that all local areas have the digital infrastructure able to meet the demands of consumers and businesses both today and in the future. This guide is structured to provide councillors with key information on digital connectivity. It explores the main issues and challenges facing our local areas and includes hints, tips and case studies from experienced councillors who have already undertaken work to get their communities better connected. It also provides a brief overview of Government policy and a glossary of widely used terms. Finally, it sets out the vital role councillors can play in this area by:

• educating residents, voluntary and third-sector groups and businesses on the benefits of faster, more reliable connectivity

• bringing communities together to advocate for improved digital connectivity by applying for grants or aggregating their demand to persuade telecommunications providers to build the necessary infrastructure on their road

• helping residents consider where it is most appropriate to build new digital infrastructure, such as a phone mast, to improve residents’ and businesses’ connectivity whilst conserving local landscapes

• working in partnership with council portfolio holders, officers and other local stakeholders to consider the role your council can play in helping to improve communities’ digital connectivity.

For any queries relating to the guide please email localism@local.gov.uk.