UK operators want local authorities to be more helpful on infrastructure

Mobile UK has very courteously pointed the finger at local authorities as a bottle-neck in the rollout of infrastructure which will fuel the digital economy.

In a new report, released as part of the ‘Building Mobile Britain’ campaign, the lobby group representing EE, Three, Vodafone and O2 has suggested local authorities should be doing more. The lobbyist does not go as far as to criticise the authorities, but a patronising checklist at the end of the report prods the town-hall dwelling public servants in the right direction.

“Building Mobile Britain relies on strong partnerships and local Government has a vital role to play in delivering this goal,” said Gareth Elliott, Head of Policy and Communications at Mobile UK. “Our report, Councils and Connectivity, outlines how proactive local government leadership, planning and the sharing of ideas can enable and unlock opportunities to achieving a world-class connected economy.”

We are not surprised the under-funded and under-staffed local authorities could be considered as a hurdle by the telco industry. In the world of local politics everything is critically important and nothing gets enough attention, though there are a few valid points made.

Firstly, taking a proactive approach. This is the first suggestion by the lobbyists, creating a senior management position or committee which oversees how mobile is being addressed in the authority. This position or committee would be responsible for ensuring the foundations for connectivity are built into all other activities at the authority. This should be viewed as a critical component of local government as the benefits of the digital economy need to be appreciated at every level of bureaucracy in the UK.

There are of course examples of authorities who are embracing the digital revolution, Peterborough or Milton Keynes are two excellent examples, though the mediocrity or sluggishness of other councils will only create another digital divide across the UK. The creation of champions internally will facilitate a proactive approach to connectivity.

This also ties into the second point; planning for the long-term. Embedding mobile plans into local economic development initiatives should be seen as a basic requirement nowadays, and there are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the broadband rollout over the last few years according to Mobile UK.

The final point is about collaboration. The mobile industry is not the enemy, and while this report is perhaps a shallow attempt to cover up the capitalist ambitions of the telcos, the end result should not be undervalued. People want mobile connectivity as it is a critical component of almost every aspect of our lives from communication to entertainment and daily functions such as banking. The mobile industry might be pushing for change to generate profits, but the reasoning is irrelevant when the citizens want exactly the same end result; greater coverage.

The point of the report seems to be a passive-aggressive nudge to the local authorities, and we tend to agree. Mobile connectivity is a relatively new topic for Local Authorities to consider, and experience suggests these bodies are not the quickest off the mark. That said, it is a critical component of our lives, businesses, public services and the future economy. If Local Authorities are not taking a proactive approach, like Peterborough or Milton Keynes, a new digital divide will be created.