Good progress was made in 2022, but challenges remain in the drive to improve the UK’s digital connectivity, according to new research by connectivity consultancy FarrPoint.
The survey of local authority digital leaders across the UK is the first research to look at priorities across fixed and mobile connectivity specifically within local authority areas – and the barriers that can prevent progress.
FarrPoint reached out to over 100 digital leaders at local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales in December 2022, with responding councils in a variety of geographical locations, from ‘dense urban’ to rural areas.
The research examined a range of topics from gigabit-capable broadband to 5G, smart places, telecoms and net zero.
Key findings uncovered by the survey were:
- Almost all surveyed councils (97%) believed their organisation recognised the priority of digital connectivity and the fundamental role it plays in their area’s competitiveness.
- Only 43% of councils who responded have an up-to-date digital connectivity strategy, with around 12% having no digital connectivity strategy at all.
- The majority of councils (60%) want to ensure their area is fully covered by 4G first before investing more in 5G.
- 100% of responding councils felt at least reasonably well informed about digital connectivity coverage in their area.
- 80% of respondents were unsure how improved connectivity can reduce carbon emissions.
- Many councils are under-prepared for the forthcoming telecoms switch-offs, with more than 1 in 4 having no plans in place.
- Only 43% of local authorities had deployed smart places technologies – such as Internet of Things – in their area, with 1 in 4 still questioning the benefits.
- Lack of funding from central government is seen by councils as the biggest barrier to improving connectivity, closely followed by deployment issues.
- All respondents agreed that gigabit-enabled broadband plays a vital role in enabling their region to remain competitive, with nearly all respondents believing their organisation has a role to play in ensuring gigabit is delivered in their area.
Dr Andrew Muir, Chief Executive at FarrPoint, said: “Our research highlighted some good progress on digital connectivity within local authorities, but there are still some areas for further development.
“With the focus from national government and industry on rolling out gigabit services and investments in fibre, it is not surprising that this was the area where we saw most progress from councils in 2022. There have also been improvements in 4G coverage, and to a lesser extent 5G, along with some advancements in smart places and IoT.
“The least progress was seen on ensuring digital connectivity is aligned with net-zero targets, suggesting this is an area that isn’t fully understood yet, despite the overwhelming majority of local authorities having declared climate emergencies in their area.
“At FarrPoint, we believe that local authorities need to pay more attention to this area as net-zero targets get closer, and awareness grows that connectivity is an essential enabler to achieving these targets.
“I’d advise local authorities to ensure they have an up-to-date connectivity strategy, and also to prioritise preparations for the telecoms switch-offs, as some of these changes are already happening.”
Ceren Clulow, director of Connecting Cambridgeshire, who contributed to the report on the survey, added: “Digital connectivity is key to supporting regional development priorities with clear economic growth potential. As someone who works in a local authority, and closely collaborates with other councils, operators, and telecoms industry bodies, I really welcome this report. It raises the importance of connectivity and the key role local authorities have to play in achieving the leading edge digital infrastructure needed for businesses and communities to thrive.
She added: “Having a unified digital infrastructure strategy, with clear actions and timescales, is essential for all local authorities.”
You can view the survey here