LGA calls for a bigger role in tackling the rural connectivity gap
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for more post-Brexit powers to deal with a number of issues faced by rural England including patchy mobile and broadband connectivity that cuts off businesses’ access to new markets.

The LGA has set up a Post-Brexit England Commission to examine the challenges and opportunities faced by non-metropolitan England and it today published an interim report, “The future of non-metropolitan England: Moving the conversation on”, which notes that one in five rural homes built in the last three years is still not connected to “superfast broadband” and calls for a new Fibre to the Premises Kitemark to reduce confusion in the marketplace.

The LGA highlights recent figures from Ofcom that indicate that 60 per cent of rural premises can receive an outdoor 4G signal from all operators, falling to 19 per cent for indoor coverage and is concerned by a recent disclosure that the mobile network operators’ obligations (as set by the UK government) “will not be of sufficient strength or capacity to support the needs of modern day smartphone users”.

The Association also cited a report that puts the current cost from constraints to digital adoption for rural businesses, especially small and micro-businesses, at up to £26 billion in lost gross value added.

Consequently, the LGA says that the government must give councils the statutory backing to ensure all new build homes are connected to future-proofed digital infrastructure; and work with Ofcom to ensure mobile coverage data is accurate, up-to-date and reflects consumer experience in non-metropolitan areas.

In return, councils in non-metropolitan England will look to engage with developers through the planning system to ensure that digital connectivity is a key consideration in planning applications so residents can be assured their new homes will have future-proofed digital connectivity.

These councils are also looking to work constructively with mobile network operators to understand the role local policy and public sector infrastructure can play in helping expand mobile connectivity across rural and deeply rural areas.

The full report can be viewed here.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: “Rural areas face a perfect storm. It is increasingly difficult for people to buy a home in their local community, mobile and broadband connectivity can be patchy, and people living within rural and deeply rural communities face increasing isolation from health services.

“If Britain is to make the most of a successful future outside of the European Union, it’s essential that our future success is not confined to our cities. Unless the Government can give non-metropolitan England the powers and resources it needs, it will be left behind.

“This report outlines to Government a firm offer from councils in non-metropolitan areas, to play a greater role in building thriving, connected and healthy communities. It represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for non-metropolitan England to not only improve public services, but deliver a resurgence in rural England’s economy as well.”

Evan Dixon, CEO, European Broadband Retail at Viasat Inc, said: “...The government’s current ambition of providing a 10mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) is nowhere near fast enough to provide rural populations with the connectivity they need, especially as demand keep increasing. The Government needs to be much more ambitious in providing better connections, instead of passing the buck to local areas. Without this ambition, we risk further widening the divide highlighted in the report, creating a two-tiered nation of broadband haves and have-nots. This two-tier problem will have ongoing effects on education, opportunity and investment, creating a vicious circle where the gap between haves and have-nots keeps expanding.

“Providing this connection is challenging when we’re increasingly reliant on fibre, which is needlessly and prohibitively expensive to build out in rural communities...Satellite broadband... is increasingly capable of offering the speed and capacity that consumers need, already serving hundreds of thousands of homes in the US and Europe with speeds up to 100 Mbps. By 2020, satellite broadband will be capable of even greater speeds, with the capacity to deliver consumer services at a suitable price point. Exactly what we need in the UK to make sure everybody is covered with the right speeds at the right cost, regardless of the impact of Brexit.”


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