Editorial

LGA Demands clarity about Whitehall’s broadband plans

The Local Government Association (LGA) has issued a call for more Westminster focus on the growing gap between connectivity speeds across the UK.

Posted 8 August 2016 by

Is the UK in danger of a 'digital divide' between town and country?The government needs to sharpen up its plans for a national minimum UK broadband speed – or hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses face falling into a “digital twilight zone”.

That’s the stark view of the voice of the Town Hall, the Local Government Association (LGA), which has just issued a stinging assessment of the current state of what we were promised would be ‘Broadband Britain’ by now.

The body, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says access to fast and reliable digital connectivity is a “necessity” for British homes and businesses.

That was reflected in previous commitments to request a broadband connection capable of delivering a minimum download speed of 10Mbps by 2020. But based on its own data, the government admits the number of those British households unable to access anything like that level of connectivity by 2017 could be as many as a million – with 100,000 in remote rural areas, raising the risk of a growing digital divide.

“Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, file tax returns and access their bank accounts,” pointed out Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, Councillor Mark Hawthorne.

“As central and local government services increasingly become ‘digital by default’, more people will need to have faster and more reliable speeds,” he added.

LGA says the government must step up the pace now, demanding a “timetable for action,” especially after delays to the Digital Economy Bill and the Government’s Digital Strategy, and while Matt Hancock replaced Ed Vaizey as Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

And while local government leaders support the government’s planned creation of a national minimum broadband speed as part of a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband users, they also want a “safety net” for those who are unlikely to be covered by rollout plans.

That might not be enough, though, fears the LGA: “Achieving 10Mbps should just be the start and something to build on because demand for and availability of faster speeds continues to grow,” says Hawthorne.

“For the farmer applying for funding, the small business processing its invoices or the GP checking the availability of medicines, broadband is communities’ lifeblood.

“Ensuring residents and businesses across the country are provided with fast and reliable digital connectivity will be key to achieving the Government’s ambition of an economy that works for all,” he added.