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Mobile UK Calls on Government to Fund Local Digital Champions

Tuesday, May 10th, 2022 (9:11 am) - Score 288
Mobile UK Local Authority Digital Champions

The Mobile UK trade body, which represents operators including Three UK, EE (BT), O2 (VMO2) and Vodafone, has today published a new report that calls on the Government to put funding behind the establishment of Digital Champions at local authority level to help coordinate the mobile and broadband infrastructure rollout.

All of this is important as the Government looks to deliver on their £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) project, which aims to extend UK geographic 4G mobile coverage to 95% by the end of 2025. Not to mention their commitment to ensure that the majority of the UK’s “population” should have access to 5G mobile by 2030, which is an absurdly low bar since the industry should easily be able to hit that, and probably well before 2030 (we’ll be into 6G territory by then).

However, the new report from Mobile UK notes how there are several areas that continue to make mobile equipment deployment difficult; these are the lack of coordination, expertise, and focussed resource to enable mobile connectivity at local authority level.

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At the same time, it should be noted that local authorities are currently facing unprecedented revenue constraints, with central government grants (including retained business rates) being cut by 37% in real-terms between 2009/10 and 2019/20, from £41bn to £26bn in 2019/20 prices. In addition, most local authorities lack a clear strategy or leadership in these areas.

In a nationwide survey, just 45% of councillors stated that their local authority had a digital strategy in place and only 31% said they had an assigned role or Digital Champion. Furthermore, only 32% of councillors believe their local authority is doing enough to smooth the way for the rollout of telecommunications infrastructure and equipment in their local area.

The report thus argues that one way to boost such deployments is for the government to help fund the establishment of Digital Champions at local authority level, which they say would recognise the financial restraints of councils and the importance of digital connectivity, whilst alleviating a lack of awareness and understanding about mobile infrastructure in order to boost the rollout.

Five Minimum Requirements for a Successful Digital Champion:

➤ Should be fully funded

➤ Held at a senior level

➤ Have political responsibility (be supported by cabinet-level elected representatives)

➤ Have demonstrable skills and experience

➤ Focused on tangible outcomes, not outputs

The idea of digital champions is nothing new – it’s been proposed by everybody from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) to the Public Accounts Committee (SMF), and we’ve seen similar positions being appointed in the past – at everything from community (villages, towns etc.) to county council level – usually to help oversee progress in broadband and mobile developments.

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However, the effectiveness of such champions does tend to vary, depending upon how much decision-making power, experience and influence they actually have upon a local authority. Suffice to say, it’s easy to understand Mobile UK’s template for a successful champion.

Gareth Elliott, Director of Policy and Communications at Mobile UK, said:

“The Government has placed enormous emphasis in its Levelling Up agenda on improving digital connectivity, particularly to reduce digital poverty and exclusion, but to achieve these goals it is important to understand the need to assist local authorities in helping to prioritise and coordinate mobile infrastructure deployment.

Our report highlights the role and dramatic impact a government-funded Digital Champion, can have on a council’s ability to play a positive role in the rollout of digital connectivity and to support the UK realise its goal of 5G rollout.”

The report’s poll suggests that where a local authority has a digital strategy in place they are: 3 x more likely to agree that promoting and improving digital connectivity is a priority for the local area, 4 x more likely to say their local authority’s relationship with digital infrastructure providers is effective, and 4 x more likely to say their local authority is doing enough to smooth the way for the rollout of new telecommunications infrastructure.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that such a role must be about more than just public relations, and it needs to be properly resourced. The government have a lot to think about.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
2 Responses
  1. Avatar photo The Facts says:

    And what do they actually do?

    1. Avatar photo Sonic says:

      Everything apart from actually investing in the network. It’s all pointless fluff.

Comments are closed

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