DCF Launches new Local Authorities as Connectivity Enablers Report – Event Summary

On 18th July, the Digital Connectivity Forum (DCF) launched its latest report: Local Authorities as Digital Connectivity Enablers. The report launch took place in London at the offices of techUK and was opened by the DCF Chair, Stephanie Liston before Alex Mather, Head of the DCF, gave some opening remarks. This was then followed by a presentation by Steve Smith, Principal Consultant at FarrPoint. 

At a time when much has been done to reduce barriers to the deployment of high-speed fixed and mobile connectivity, both Government and infrastructure companies continue to strive towards the ambitious coverage targets for 2025-2030. Despite many legislative changes in recent years, which has contributed to over 70% of homes across the UK having access to gigabit capable broadband, there remain many challenges at local level; including poor communication and collaboration between local authorities and industry, issues around planning and a lack of consistency of approach across the UK. This discrepancy is leading to prominent levels of variation between local authority areas regarding rollout and access to high-speed connectivity. 

The report, conducted by leading digital consultancy, FarrPoint, identifies and discusses these challenges and is the product of interviews with 31 organisations who are involved in the provision of digital connectivity. These included local authorities, fixed and mobile network operators, central and devolved governments, and other regulatory and policy stakeholders. 

From this, four main themes arose. These were communication & engagement, planning, street & roadworks and local authorities as landlords and site providers. In total the report makes 27 recommendations that, if adopted across the board could address many of the remaining obstacles that local authorities are experiencing with the deployment of digital connectivity. 

Communication and Engagement 

Conclusions around communication & engagement included a clear indication of the necessity for a Digital Champion installed across all local authorities as well as the importance of a clear local digital strategy. It was also acknowledged that ubiquitous adoption of Digital Champions is not without challenge as many local authorities continue to operate with high workloads and highly constrained funding. 

Other key conclusions included a need for improved education within local authorities about digital infrastructure, in tandem with education for the public on the wider benefits that this infrastructure and connectivity brings to help mitigate public concerns. Communication between local authorities and industry remains a key area for improvement, which has the potential to offer real value in terms of improving the overall process of rollout. It was also identified that improvements could be made in terms of communication between different parts of central government as well as clearly defining the stakeholder roles and responsibility to facilitate direct and open conversation. 

The thirteen recommendations which focused on engagement & communication centred around:  

  • Supporting the role of Digital Champions across all local authorities 
  • Considering how communication with local authorities could be enhanced​ 
  • Developing clear guidance on how all parties could improve communications​ 
  • Increasing digital infrastructure deployment knowledge within local authorities to aid​ decision making​ 
  • Ensuring local policies and plans are aligned with national objectives 


Conclusions within planning centred around improving consistency across nations and regions, with a wider consideration of local benefits in the planning process, alongside better feedback for rejected applications. It was noted that planning guidance should, and must, keep pace with technology developments and that updated, and increasingly aligned planning guidance would help accelerate deployment. It was also understood that planning resources are constrained and communication with the public could also help to ease the process, for example a better understanding of the product and not only its direct consumer benefits but wider societal ones could help bridge the gap between public, local authority and industry. 

Six recommendations within the subject of planning were made. These were to: 

  • Urgently review and update planning regulations in Northern Ireland ​ 
  • Improve consistency of pre-planning processes​ 
  • Develop best practice guidance on planning applications​ 
  • Review and update the Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development Scotland) Act​ 
  • Undertake analysis to identify trends in planning application rejections to inform future guidance and/or policy​ 

Street & Roadworks 

When considering street & roadworks the key conclusion was that variation in noticing and permitting schemes is the largest barrier to deployment with a lack of standards as an area that can cause issues. Within this it was also remarked that regulations could better reflect digital infrastructure requirements as well as improved coordination between both Highways and Operators. There was a general feeling that the adoption of flexible permitting should be increased alongside an improvement in the sharing of infrastructure. 

Six recommendations were made in this area. They included: 

  • Promote adoption of flexible permits to local authorities, including future trials​ 
  • Improve consistency of approach to managing street works across the UK​ 
  • Increase early engagement with local authorities during the deployment planning process​ 
  • Instigate improvement programmes with subcontractors to increase confidence within local authorities​ 
  • Investigate the potential benefits within local authorities of adopting a flexible permits approach 

Local Authorities as Landlords & Site Providers 

Finally, when considering local authorities as landlords & site providers key conclusions were that the use of public assets is varied, with the role of agents as intermediaries requiring consideration and potential reform. Overall, there is a willingness for public assets to be used for deployment and conversations should take place in a constructive and open way to maximise the opportunity for this. 

There were two recommendations in this area which looked at: 

  • Ensuring accurate asset data is available to interested parties, and that the focus is on the wider benefits resulting from digital connectivity rather than revenue generation​ 
  • Facilitating access to public sector assets (land, rooftops, and street furniture) and utilising standard templates and guidance for negotiation of agreements​ 

Panel discussion 

A panel of expert speakers, providing perspectives from across industry, central government, and local government, then followed Steve’s presentation. Speakers included chair of the panel and of the DCF, Stephanie Liston; Jesam Eyong, DSIT; Belinda Fawcett, Cornerstone; Councillor Mark Hawthorne MBE, LGA; Jo Swarbrick, CityFibre and Steve Smith, FarrPoint. 

The panel began with Jesam Eyong, Head of Public Sector Engagement, Barrier Busting Taskforce, DSIT, offering DSIT’s perspective on the report. He outlined that the Department commends the overall tone and positioning of the report in setting out local authorities as enablers of digital connectivity; acknowledging that no local authorities set out to block progress. He added that this framing had laid good foundations for constructive, positive cooperation between local authorities and industry. In addition to this, it was discussed that it is interesting, and positive, to note that recommendations span across all stakeholders within the process, rather than pinning the task of change upon one specific area.  

Jesam remarked that it is encouraging that the report holds nothing which shocks DSIT, meaning that it contains items which are ready to be enacted, if not already in progress or in planning (such as ongoing work into flexi-permitting trials). 

Overall DSIT welcomed the report and encourages those with questions to contact them. They also encourage that local authorities speak to their highways teams to learn more about flexi permits. 

Jesam also highlighted that government is planning a series of upcoming webinars broadly in line with the four themes highlighted in the report and encourages those with interest to enquire about these. 

Belinda Fawcett, Director of Property and Estates and General Counsel, Cornerstone then gave her thoughts on the report. She commented that herself and Cornerstone welcome the positive nature of the report and its highlighting of the importance of local authorities within connectivity – recognising them as key players within rollout. Recognition was also given to the resistance that can be caused through lack of understanding, which lends particular pertinence to the report’s calls for increased communication and education between all involved parties. As part of this increased communication there is an opportunity for better engagement to work towards balancing the positive impact of infrastructure against the visual drawback it can have within areas – often a point of contention between providers and residents. 

The call for Digital Champions was welcomed, with interest in the suggestion of industry digital champions or single points of contact to complement local authority counter parts. Overall, it was felt that the report emphasises the importance of cohesion and coordination between industry and local authorities to work together to solve issues in a direct and non-legal way. 

Councillor Mark Hawthorne MBE, Leader of Gloucestershire County Council & LGA Digital Connectivity Spokesperson, next gave his views from a local government perspective. He welcomed the report and noted, alongside DSIT, that there was nothing particularly new or surprising within it. Councillor Hawthorne noted that the key recommendation within the report was digital champions, with a separate note that funding would need to be provided for these digital champions to enable stretched local authorities to be able to deliver these positions across the country.  

It was noted that all four of the key themes involve different departments and improvements across all areas can be built through understanding and communication. To generate this cohesion, local authorities must be bought back into the involvement of processes, enabling them to view digital infrastructure as an investment rather than a generator of community and industry complaints. 

Jo Swarbrick, Head of Public Affairs at CityFibre, gave a fixed operator’s perspective to the panel. Jo welcomed the report and stated that he was encouraged by the positive, rather than adversarial, stance it had taken. In particular, CityFibre advocated the role of Digital Champions, agreeing the value they hold for a provider when tasked with the remit and responsibility to join up the different areas involved with rollout. 

Alongside Digital Champions there was focus on the various planning points raised, with comment that slow planning is delaying rollout and better communication between local authorities and industry will be vital in assisting this issue, alongside potential government intervention to improve planning application ease. 

CityFibre highlighted the value that flexi permits represent to providers, citing permitting as a substantial barrier. If widely adopted, flexi permits could create a better flow of continuous rollout as well as smoothing day to day contact between operators, highways, and local authorities.  

Finally, Steve Smith, Principal Consultant at FarrPoint gave his closing remarks to the panel, advocating for a non-adversarial stance between industry and local authority and highlighting the necessity for improvement to keep pace across the whole of the UK, rather than some areas being left behind. To achieve this a coordinated and considered approach will be required. Steve highlighted that more talking is the most positive first step and that from that the remaining issues can begin to be addressed. Steve concluded that he, and FarrPoint, are hopeful that many of the recommendations can be considered and hopefully applied to create a realisation of the vital value presented by enhanced digital connectivity for all. 

Stephanie Liston then offered closing remarks, noting the positivity that members of the panel, all representing different parts of the complex ecosystem of digital rollout, were aligned and willing to work together – paving the way for enactment of reform and the driving of progress. 


The panel was then opened to audience Q&A with questions focusing on varying topics such as digital champions, infrastructure sharing, funding, and industry collaboration. 

Is there an opportunity for the Digital Champion brief to be broadened to include helping local communities (particularly businesses) to understand what it is they need to buy and how to fully benefit from the infrastructure provided. 

  • Digital Champions are holistic in their approach, tasked with considering the wider picture, including how to achieve the benefit of the connectivity for which they advocate. 
  • There has been feedback showing that those local authorities who have Digital Champions are working well and this support is happening.  
  • There has been a clear indication that people do need guidance and operators are aware of this, with many (including CityFibre) calling on Ofcom to release such guidance (e.g., What constitutes full fibre). 
  • Whilst Digital Champions can be a catalyst to digital rollout, they can also be part of embedding digital adoption across the wider local authority and educating on why consumers should care about higher speeds; highlighting the societal and individual benefit that that connectivity brings. 

Is industry doing enough to have local authority champions within their own structures? 

  • The report has identified how important local authorities are to connectivity, alongside how industry needs to provide support for this e.g., who to speak to and where to go.  
  • The focus can now be placed on either side, allowing for a more balanced view. There is clear value in having an industry champion counterpart. 

Are there examples of successful industry collaboration and if not, what can be done to make this happen?

  • yes; an area in the south of England has had collaboration between fixed line operators sharing plans with each other.  
  • If there is a will to work together, there can be results achieved together.  
  • The National Connectivity Alliance is trying hard to foster communication in this area and came from the access to land workshops convened by what was then DCMS (Department for Culture, Media, and Sport) and is now being run by industry itself. 

What is the real scope for collaboration and infrastructure sharing given the current level of overbuild? 

  • DSIT recognises that they are aware of the issues presented by overbuild, which include removal and damage of infrastructure. 
  • Change in this area will inevitably take time, as well as a commitment from the operators involved to conduct conversations with honesty and an open and less accusatory tone. 
  • The Local Government Association (LGA) is trying to understand what needs to be done to have this conversation and considers that often delay is not an issue of will, but of way. The challenge is recognised and there is a solution, but that solution will require recognition of the complexity of the issue. 
  • Overbuild is already embedded in the connectivity structure.  
  • The positive position the UK finds itself in with connectivity is largely in place due the competitive business environment that it has.  
  • There is agreement that collaboration and infrastructure sharing is positive 
  • Local authorities should also share their own assets (such as roads, roof tops), and work towards asset sharing to providers as well as sharing between providers. 

How can industry work with local authorities who are short on resource, such as those who want to be part of the process but cannot or are prohibited from doing so due to financial constraints?

  •  Ideally there would be central government funding for Digital Champions across all local authorities, with a particular call that every local authority does need funding for this. 
  • For local authorities to widely adopt Digital Champions they must first see the value in having them (including the wider connectivity, societal and income value).  
  • This is partially incumbent on the local authorities to be involved in and advocate for this rather than entirely central government owned. 
  • DSIT highlighted that government very clearly understands the value of digital champions (and would have them embedded everywhere in an ideal world) – however, until decisions are made in central government to fund digital champions across the UK, we must be pragmatic in our approach. It is possible to focus the structure to accommodate these changes, however it takes a lot of patience and work, and Government acknowledges that this balancing is not at all easy. 

The report launch concluded with thanks and closing comments from the DCF, and report launch chair, Stephanie Liston. 

The Digital Connectivity Forum would like to take the time to thank all those involved in the report, including those who were interviewed, the panellists, FarrPoint and those who attended the launch event. An insightful report has been produced which presents value to a wide range of stakeholders and will hopefully lead the way to a more cohesive and connected connectivity future. 

DCF Report: Local Authorities as Connectivity Enablers

The UK’s rollout of gigabit-capable broadband and 5G connectivity would benefit from improvements in communication, collaboration and consistency between local authorities and the telecoms industry, according to a new report published today.

The latest report for the Digital Connectivity Forum (DCF), the leading advisory body to the UK Government on connectivity, by the consultancy FarrPoint, looks at the role of local authorities as enablers of digital connectivity.

The report was the output of interviews with 31 organisations involved in the provision of digital connectivity, including local authorities, fixed and mobile network operators, central and devolved governments, and other regulatory and policy stakeholders.

The analysis finds that improvement is needed in the areas of communication, collaboration and consistency. Contributions to the report indicated that more can be done to improve communication on all sides and that inconsistency is seen across local authorities in terms of their approach to the deployment of digital infrastructure.

The report makes a number of recommendations for policy makers and the industry itself across four areas: communications and engagement; planning; street and roadworks; and local authorities as landlords and site providers. Key recommendations include that:

  • Government should consider requiring local authorities to have a digital champion, with the role both better defined and funded;
  • Local authorities should embrace flexible permitting and that those who are able to should take part in further flexi-permit trials;
  • Government should review planning processes in relation to pre-planning guidance and analyse fees being applied by planning authorities to ensure that digital infrastructure deployment is not held back;
  • Government should undertake a communications programme targeted at local authorities across the UK to ensure that they better understand the full benefits of 5G and gigabit-capable broadband;
  • Local authorities and telecoms operators should work closely together to better educate planning authorities on the technical requirements of 5G and gigabit-capable broadband infrastructure.

The report’s recommendations, if fully implemented, would address many of the remaining obstacles local authorities are experiencing with the deployment of digital connectivity.

The full report can be read here.

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 rollout of both fixed and mobile digital infrastructure.”

Steve Smith, Principal Consultant at FarrPoint, said:

“During this study, we spoke to over 26 different local authorities and related organisations from all parts of the UK who are all active in supporting the rollout of digital infrastructure. While conducting these interviews, we noted a number of great digital initiatives and also identified where there are still a few improvements to be made.

“As part of the study recommendations, we highlight that local authorities need to be empowered through more consistent, centralised policies and legislation in order to help them accelerate the connectivity infrastructure rollout and champion innovation. 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.”

UK’s largest connectivity providers commit to working together to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

The Digital Connectivity Forum is delighted to announce the launch of a pledge for collaborative action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the supply chain. The pledge, which is signed by many big mobile and broadband ISPs marks a positive step in an important journey, as the industry strives towards net zero.

The commitment follows a roundtable meeting in May, convened by Ofcom and Accenture, where twelve telecoms and network infrastructure companies were invited to discuss and identify priority areas where they could work together to reduce GHG emissions in the supply chain.

The participants have committed to work via the Digital Connectivity Forum’s Climate & Sustainability Work Group, to building industry consensus on these areas to drive action, ahead of COP28, while ensuring compliance with Competition Law.

The DCF Climate & Sustainability Work Group (CSWG) provides a platform for the facilitation of UK Telecoms collaboration, enabling the acceleration of individual and industry path(s) towards net zero through collaboration, evidence sourcing and providing expert recommendations to Government, regulators and the industry.

The group will meet a further four times before the end of COP28 and will collaborate with other telecoms groupings and bodies that are committed to tackling climate change.

We commend the collaborative commitment of these companies in reducing the climate impact of the telecoms sector. By understanding and addressing the complexities of the industry, we can pave the way for industry-wide transformation. The enthusiasm and support for the DCF’s climate working group are inspiring, and we look forward to their proposals ahead of COP28.

Alex Mather, Head of the Digital Connectivity Forum

The Digital Connectivity Forum welcomes the signatories’ commitment to work together to reduce GHG emissions and support the sector and nation’s net zero ambitions. Individual companies within the telecoms sector have long-established commitments at a company level, however the UK telecoms industry is a complex and interlinked system. It is therefore essential that the sector collaborates and works together to address these challenges and achieves industry-wide transformation. I am delighted by the enthusiasm and support for the DCF’s working group on climate issues, and look forward to the work that it will undertake.

Will Ennett, Chair of the Digital Connectivity Forum Climate & Sustainability Work Group & Head of Sustainability, TalkTalk

We welcome the commitment of these companies to work together to reduce the climate impact of the sector. Better understanding the supply chain is as critical for sustainability as it is for security, so this is the right focus. We look forward to seeing further specific proposals ahead of COP 28

Ed Leighton, Director of Strategy & Policy at Ofcom

Companies have a leading role in scaling the ambition of a more sustainable future into a reality. The commitment we saw from all participants at May’s roundtable to work together and identify priority areas for collaboration will accelerate the innovative solutions and sustainability services needed for real action. We will continue to support the members of the Digital Connectivity Forum with insights on embedding sustainability as a core objective in the communications industry.

Toby Siddall, Sustainability Lead, Accenture UK & Ireland

You can learn more about the statement of commitment and those companies who are signed up to it here. If you would like to learn more about the Digital Connectivity Forum, including our work in the Climate & Sustainability Work Group, contact us today!

Report Launch: Local authorities as connectivity enablers – 18/07/23

Following our successful report looking at diversity in the telecoms workforce, we are delighted to be launching the next in our annual body of work. This time we will be focusing on Local Authorities and their roles as enablers of digital connectivity.

The report will explore the challenges remaining at local authority level to the deployment of digital infrastructure, as well as the role that authorities can play in championing the uptake of advanced connectivity in their communities.

The event will feature a presentation from principal consultant, Steve Smith from Farrpoint (the DCF’s partner for this piece of research), alongside a panel featuring a range of expert speakers from industry, government and others where the report’s findings will be discussed in detail.

After the launch there will be a networking drinks reception.

We look forward to seeing you there!


15:30: Welcome – Stephanie Liston (DCF Chair) and Alex Mather (DCF Head)

15:35: Presentation of report and Q&A – Steve Smith (Principal Consultant, FarrPoint)

15:55: Panel and Q&A

  • Stephanie Liston (Chair) – Chair, Digital Connectivity Forum
  • Jesam Eyong – Head of Public Sector Engagement, Barrier Busting Taskforce, DSIT
  • Steve Smith – Principal Consultant, FarrPoint
  • Councillor Mark Hawthorne MBE – Leader of Gloucestershire County Council & LGA Digital Connectivity Spokesperson
  • Jo Swarbrick – Head of Public Affairs, CityFibre
  • Belinda Fawcett – Director of Property and Estates and General Counsel, Cornerstone

16:40: Concluding remarks (DCF Chair)

16:45 onwards: Drinks reception

Introducing the Climate & Sustainability Working Group

Leading the way in Telecoms Net Zero

In January 2023, the DCF convened the first of a regular series of working group meetings. The DCF Climate & Sustainability Working Group is comprised of focused and driven representatives from across the telecoms and connectivity sector.

The aim of the working group is to facilitate UK Telecoms collaboration, enabling the acceleration of individual and industry path(s) towards net zero.

As with all industries, the UK telecoms sector is a complex organism, in which each individual player is part of a larger machine, particularly when it comes to carbon emissions and sustainability. An example of this is how the majority of UK telecom providers carbon footprint(s) typically result from their supply chain.

Recognising this complexity, the working groups first priority is to develop a net zero priority action list covering the UK telecoms sector, focusing on three main themes; e-waste, supply chain and operational efficiency.

The DCF Climate & Sustainability Working Group (CSWG) provides a platform for expert voices to come together in a way that is representative of the digital connectivity value chain to make meaningful progress on the path towards net zero.

The CSWG will collaborate, source evidence and provide expert recommendations to Government, regulators and the industry via the DCF executive. Through this it aims to support the development of policies, particularly those pertaining to climate and sustainability, which recognise and deliver on digital connectivity’s ability to empower positive societal change and economic growth as we journey towards net zero.

The group is chaired by Will Ennett, Head of Sustainability at TalkTalk, who had this to say regarding the working group and its ambitions.

We’ve identified an opportunity for a body that is specific to telecoms, and specific to the UK and Irish markets, to come together and actively collaborate on reducing the environmental impact of our sector.

It’s a real pleasure to bring together so many great experts on the topic of sustainability, and we look forward to starting by working on measures which can reduce the sector’s carbon footprint.

Will Ennett, Head of Sustainability, TalkTalk and DCF Climate & Sustainability Working Group Chair

If you would be interested in joining the DCF executive or getting involved with the Climate & Sustainability Working Group please get in touch with us.

Keeping Pace with a Digital Age

The Path to Digital Inclusion

In an increasingly online world, which provides a wealth of economic and social benefits, there is a growing light on the reality and practicality of digital exclusion; those who feel unable to keep pace with the rapid levels of technological reliance that is shaping society and the way we live.

Research conducted by the DCF on the subject of digital exclusion in 2020 suggested that attitudes towards the increasing role of digital connectivity in society were mixed, and whilst many acknowledged that the increasing debate of technological reliance is a complex one, there was a general trend that those who felt digitally excluded were more likely to mention the negative aspects of the internet.

Digital exclusion can take many forms, having broad and far-reaching effects. As people increasingly live and manage their lives online, connectivity and the ability to access, use and understand services has never been more important.

Those who are digitally excluded may experience financial implications such as paying more for goods and services, inability to access financial support and financial exclusion. Educational resources can be harder to access, as well as job applications and social services. There is also the social element of increased loneliness and isolation, either from being unable to access the way in which many now choose to interact or from feeling overwhelmed by the rapid changes’ technology has had on modern life, preventing individuals from experiencing the many benefits they bring.

According to the Lloyds Essential Digital Skills Survey (EDS), 10 million people lacked the basic digital skills required for modern day life in 2021. Digital Skills are defined as the ability to use digital devices such as computers, smartphones and the internet.

Digital skills are a vital barrier on the path to digital inclusion and Government programmes such as Skills for Life, Essential – Digital Skills are working to address this. AgeUK also has an active Digital Champion programme, running from 2022-2026, which aims to recruit Digital Champion Volunteers who will help support older people in learning digital skills, or building the digital confidence required to fully interact with modern society.

Devices and services must also be designed in a way that is accessible and inclusive to all, as well as being advertised in such a way that those who may benefit are aware of them.

Other barriers include the cost of access, whether that is for the device or service. Internet Service Providers are doing great work in offering low cost, social tariff options for those who need them. However, Ofcom recently published research that suggested a lower than expected take up of these offers, with just 5.1% of those who are eligible signed up. This could be a signal that creative approaches are required, beyond more traditional advertising campaigns, to ensure offers are reaching those who need the support of social tariffs.

Industry is also acting beyond social tariff availability. Sky Up is a programme launched by Sky in 2022, which aims to upskill those who are digitally isolated through connectivity, training and technology. It will provide Digital Hubs for economically deprived areas and tech grants for young people including devices and connectivity to support learning. The programme aims to target two demographics who are at key risk of digital exclusion; under 25’s in low-income areas and over 65’s and will be underpinned by a 10million fund.

BT’s Skills for Tomorrow programme has helped 14.7 million people to develop their digital skills and aims to help 25 million people by 2026. BT also partnered with Home Start in 2022 with the aim of providing devices and social tariffs to help ensure that those at risk of digital exclusion have access to the connection they need.

TalkTalk have conducted work with the DWP to offer their 6 month no contract Fibre35 Broadband for job seekers. Ensuring they have the connectivity they need to access job opportunities, with an option to continue their contract or cancel with no associated fees at the end of their 6 months.

Some local authorities are also working with the private sector to provide devices to those unable to access them. Charities such as AgeUK may offer device loans and community organisations, in conjunction with The Good Things Foundation, have established the UK’s first National Device Bank to provide refurbished devices and data access.

Finally, there is the consideration of availability when looking at the digital divide. This includes access to fast reliable broadband universally across the UK. Notably rural areas have often struggled when it comes to faster connectivity, something which is being addressed by providers and as part of the Government’s Project Gigabit, which feeds into the Government commitment of 85% of UK homes having access to gigabit connectivity by 2025.

Indeed, the issue of digital exclusion is continuing to rise up Government and Parliament’s agenda, with the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee currently undertaking an inquiry into digital exclusion and the cost of living.

True digital inclusion requires a collaborative approach across Government, civil society and industry to tackle the various components which inhibit true inclusivity. This includes hardware providers, skills solutions and connectivity providers working together to create long term successful solutions. Effective change will require focused strategy and investment into the educational, structural and financial barriers associated with digital exclusion. This collected effort across sectors can help to ensure that as digital society increases and improves, digital inclusion moves with it.

Wireless Infrastructure Strategy Published

by Katie Lester

On 11th April 2023 the Government announced new investment into telecoms and digital wireless infrastructure as part of their new Wireless Infrastructure Strategy. As part of the UK Science and Technology Framework published earlier this year, which set out the Government’s approach towards making the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030, Future Telecoms was selected as one of the five critical technologies. The Wireless Infrastructure Strategy release builds on that priority.

The Wireless Infrastructure Strategy is a crucial element of the Prime Minister’s five priorities for Government to deliver a prosperous and secure future for the UK and includes almost £150 million of new investment into the future of digital connectivity.

It is increasingly clear that the importance and value of Digital infrastructure is vital in unlocking the full potential of an economy. The measures and investment unveiled by the Government as part of the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy has the potential to continue to drive deployment and adoption of fixed and wireless networks, invest in the next generation of connectivity and deliver on their promise of increased opportunities.

As part of the strategy £40 million of investment will be made available for regions and local authorities to create ‘5G Innovation Regions’ to promote innovation and adoption of 5G enabled services for businesses and the public sector. In addition to this an £8 million fund will be aimed at providing satellite connectivity to the few remaining premises unable to access improved broadband due to their remoteness following the Alpha Trial Programme of 2022.

The Policy Framework outlined in the Strategy affirms the Government’s commitment to supporting the extension of 4G coverage to 95% of the UK population as well as making a new commitment to deliver standalone 5G coverage to all populated areas of the UK by 2030. Plans to improve coverage reporting will help in identifying areas which are in need of support or reform to meet this ambitious but necessary target.

The new 6G Strategy outlines the plan to place the UK at the forefront of the future of telecoms by shaping the next generation of wireless technology. With the 5G rollout now moving at pace in the UK and Globally, a focus has been placed on the ability for the UK to be forthright in steering the agenda for future wireless technologies such as 6G.

Areas of focus within the 6G strategy to realise these ambitions include creating a clear roadmap and UK vision, encouraging research & development through collaboration, including fostering international alliances and support for patents in qualifying technology areas.

The announcement of a robust and strategic framework to support private investment into 5G is particularly welcome and follows on from the DCF’s report with Frontier Economics of September 2022 which looked into the investment gap for full 5G rollout. 

DCF Report: Diversity in Telecoms

The Digital Connectivity Forum has published a landmark piece of research today, carried out by the leading strategic insight agency Opinium, to assess diversity across the UK telecoms sector.

The snapshot is a pioneering study for the Forum which intends to conduct regular tracking work to assess progress in ensuring a more diverse workforce across the telecoms sector.

The study, which was initiated at the request of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), assessed levels of diversity, including the current state of play across the nine protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The research also looked at attitudes and perceptions amongst the telecoms workforce.

Much work has been carried out in recent years to make the telecoms workforce more representative of that of the UK. However, the report suggests that further action is still needed. Key findings from the research show that:

  • Gender diversity in the sector worsens with age, with 67% of those in the industry over the age of 35 being male.
  • One in six of those working in the telecoms industry has a disability or long-term condition (16%), considerably lower than the proportion of those in the UK workforce who have a disability or condition (26%).
  • Only one in three telecoms employees are aware of their organisations having an active diversity and inclusion culture.

The full report can be read here.

Stephanie Liston, Chair of the Digital Connectivity Forum, said:

“This important research reveals that, despite the progress of recent years, work remains to improve levels of diversity across the telecoms workforce. Having a diverse workforce encourages more creative thinking, drives innovation, and ultimately improves business performance. With a labour market that is increasingly tightened and challenging, it has never been more important for careers in the telecoms sector to appeal to as broad a section of the population as possible.
“While there are multiple positive initiatives across the industry – including those that are working to address the lack of gender diversity amongst telecoms professionals – this study reveals some of the challenges that still remain.
The Digital Connectivity Forum is committed to working collaboratively with a wide range of stakeholders to build on the industry’s positive work so far. This will include the formation of a new diversity and inclusion work group within the DCF.”

About the Research

The Diversity in Telecoms 2022 research comprised of two stages: quantitative and qualitative.

The quantitative research was conducted between the 3 and 8of August 2022 via an online survey with 504 employees working in the UK telecommunications industry. The survey was not confined to DCF sponsor organisations.

The telecoms sample was compared to nationally representative data for UK workers.

Opiniumtook a natural fallout approach of sampling telecoms employees, meaning that working in telecoms was the only criteria for participating in the research, with other characteristics (such as department) falling out naturally. It is important to caveat that the quantitative sample is unusually skewed to Manager+ levels and is not necessarily representative of the sector as a whole. The authors of the report advise treating the insights in this inaugural report as indicative rather than prescriptive to the sector.

The qualitative stage of research featured in-depth video-enabled interviews with three participants working in the telecoms industry which took place between 2 and 7 November. The interviews then informed the three case studies included in the report.

About Opinium

Opinium is an award-winning strategic insight agency built on the belief that in a world of uncertainty and complexity, success depends on the ability to stay on the pulse of what people think, feel and do. Creative and inquisitive, we are passionate about empowering our clients to make the decisions that matter. We work with organisations to define and overcome strategic challenges – helping them to get to grips with the world in which their brands operate. We use the right approach and methodology to deliver robust insights, strategic counsel and targeted recommendations that generate change and positive outcomes.

DCF Report: The Investment Gap to Full 5G Rollout

The UK is at risk of failing to reap the full benefits of 5G according to a new report published today by the Digital Connectivity Forum, the leading advisory body to UK Government on connectivity. 

The report, The Investment Gap to Full 5G Rollout, written in collaboration with Frontier Economics, examines the capacity of network operators to invest in new high-capacity, high-speed wireless 5G services. 

It finds that the industry can invest approximately £9 billion in new network infrastructure by 2030. It also finds that even this substantial investment falls some way short of the cost of delivering full 5G – estimated by the report to be an additional approximately £23-25 billion. 

The report finds that only this greater level of investment can deliver transformative new services dependent on 5G, such as autonomous vehicles, automated logistics and telemedicine.  

The report also sets out a range of recommendations, from direct support to industry to regulatory and structural reform, which would assist in closing this predicted investment gap and ensuring that the full potential benefits of 5G are realised. 

The full report can be read here.

Alex Mather, Head of the Digital Connectivity Forum said: 

“If you are using a newer smartphone or tablet in many of the UK’s bigger towns and cities, there’s a high chance that you’re already making use of high-speed, high-capacity 5G. The sector is already re-investing these revenues in more locations and more capacity. 

“But 5G isn’t just faster 4G – it has the ability to unlock innovative new uses and technologies, ranging from autonomous vehicles to advanced remote medical services. These technologies have the potential not only to increase the productivity of the nation and boost UK competitiveness, but also to improve the quality of services that the Government provides. 

“Our research finds that there is a real risk of these revolutionary benefits not being realised. To make a reality of the Government’s levelling up agenda, to boost productivity, growth and competitiveness requires action. We therefore encourage the Government and industry to work together to ensure that intensive and timely investment is delivered.”

EE Still Best Mobile Network: RootMetrics

MOBILE operator EE has retained its crown as the UK’s best mobile network in the first half of 2022, according to performance testing house RootMetrics. The network, now part of BT, won or jointly won every category (reliability, availability, speed, data, call quality and SMS) – the 10th time in a row it has swept the board. The survey also found EE’s aggregate median download speed of 66.2mbps was more than twice as fast as its nearest rival.

The report also found encouraging performances for Three, where 5G rollout is pushing speed and performance up, Virgin Media 02 and Vodafone in specific areas.

Read the whole report here.

China and India to dominate full fibre connectivity league table

YOU might think it fairly obvious that the world’s two most populous countries are set to have the most full fibre connections by 2030, at least according to the latest forecast from Point Topic. What might surprise you is the margin by which the two countries are set to lead the rest of the world.

You can read the whole report here but TL:DR – China is predicted to have over 500 million full fibre connections by the end of this decade – that’s nearly 30% of all such connections worldwide. India, though a long way back on 110 million subscribers, will still account for over 8% the planet’s full fibre customers by itself.

And the rest? Well, the US is predicted to hit 80 million by 2030, with Indonesia fourth on 60 million and Brazil completing the BRIC acronym on 42. The UK comes in seventh, although our fibre penetration rate is forecast to be second only to Spain.

BT Vows To Keep Services Running As Strike Looms

BT Group may soon follow rail in experiencing its first strike in three decades after members of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) voted by 91.5% (BT) and 95.8% (Openreach) to strike over pay. EE members will not strike despite a 95% vote in favour after its ballot failed to reach the required turnout.

BT says the proposed pay award represents “the highest pay rise for frontline colleagues in more than 20 years – an average 5% increase and up to 8% for those on the lowest salaries.” The former incumbent also argues that all pay awards must be balanced against its current “once-in-a-generation investment programme”, including the huge capital investment in moving to full fibre and 5G.

But CWU officials say that the offer, payable to staff as an across-the-board increase of £1,500, falls below the current RPI inflation rate, pointing out that the firm posted a £1.3 billion in profit last year, with CEO Philip Jansen’s pay package increasing by 32% rise and over £700m paid out in dividends.

The next move rests with the CWU, which is required to give BT management a minimum notice period for any industrial action.

Introducing the Digital Connectivity Forum

The Digital Connectivity Forum has launched today. The Forum (or DCF) brings together the biggest players in telecoms infrastructure and content creation aligned to a new vision and mission for the UK’s leading advisory body to government on digital connectivity. The Forum will build upon the work of the Broadband Stakeholder Group with a refreshed identity, vision and mission to actively address the transformed connectivity value chain.

With a redefined vision to ensure the UK has an economy and society empowered by seamless digital connectivity, the Forum has been created after extensive discussion among sponsor members and non-members. In late 2021 and early 2022, the Digital Connectivity Forum Executive convened groups of network operators, equipment manufacturers, ISPs, content producers, broadcasters, business groups, government, regulators and representatives of civil society.

The result is a revamped expert body, with an expanded remit proactively to promote seamless connectivity throughout the UK.  We look forward to working across the entire sector value chain and alongside government and regulators. Together with the existing focus on digital infrastructure, the new Digital Connectivity Forum will develop a distinct technology neutral work programme, concentrating on content demand and network design.

Stephanie Liston, Chair of the Digital Connectivity Forum, said:

“The last two decades have seen a dramatic transformation in the UK’s digital eco-system. Consumers and businesses today enjoy a huge number of internet-enabled services delivered over a variety of networks. Working with industry, government and others we are today launching the Digital Connectivity Forum with an expanded and ambitious agenda to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities of the next 20 years.”

Alex Mather, Head of the Digital Connectivity Forum, said:

“In the 21 years since the Broadband Stakeholder Group was first formed, the UK has gone from dial-up internet to surging gigabit availability, 5G, satellite and other technologies. In 2001, getting broadband Britain up and running was the focus.  Today, the ambition is seamless, universal digital connectivity, across all technologies and industry sectors. The new Digital Connectivity Forum has a crucial role in realising this greater ambition.  We look forward to proactively engaging with government to advise and inform their policy decisions.”

“As the range and diversity of services delivered via the internet has ballooned, the relationship between infrastructure and content has become more central. We want to deliver a new focus on content and distribution while continuing to facilitate discussions on delivery of better infrastructure. New working groups for each will help us to address this challenge.”

Telecoms industry agrees to new cost-of-living plan

The UK’s biggest broadband and mobile operators have agreed to a raft of new commitments to further help customers with the rising cost of living following a government-led summit at No 10 Downing Street.

These include measures such as allowing customers struggling with bills to move to cheaper packages without charge or penalty, or agreeing manageable payment plans, and options to improve existing low cost offers and increasing promotion of existing deals.

The measures, put forward by the government in consultation with the industry, will ensure people struggling with bills due to the economic aftermath of the pandemic and war in Ukraine can continue to make calls, send texts and get online. More information is available here.