London First launches the Gigabit Connectivity Network for London
On Tuesday, 14th July the Gigabit Connectivity Network for London met for the first time to discuss issues relating to the capital’s digital connectivity, bringing together operators and key representatives from the GLA, London Councils, London’s sub-regions and Local Authorities. Following recommendations last year in London First’s report Enhancing Digital Connectivity: The role of operators and local authorities, this Network has been established with the purpose of facilitating collaboration between the public and private sectors to promote faster rollout of full fibre and 5G technologies across the capital.
Sara Kelly, Head of the GLA’s Connected London Team, informed the Network about the Mayor of London and London Councils’ programme for post-COVID recovery, including the creation of a London Recovery Board and Recovery Taskforce. The Recovery Board is taking a missions based approach and a potential mission is around “digital inclusion”. The Board may be shortly seeking views from operators and other stakeholders on this draft mission. Participants in the Network were also updated on the proposed new roles for sub-regional digital champions (covering Central, East, South and West regions of London) that will provide support to local authorities. While these roles were initially planned to be filled during the Spring, the COVID crisis has led to inevitable delays and appointments have yet to be made.
Following Kelly’s address, participants of the Network discussed a number of challenges to rollout of digital infrastructure during COVID-19. These ranged from reports that operators have been faced with varying access to sites during the crisis period right the way through to need for an effective campaign counteracting 5G conspiracy theories.
It is very clear that the crisis appears to have slowed down the rollout of digital infrastructure across the capital – although this is not true of all council areas. Westminster City Council, for example, managed to take advantage of quieter roads during the crisis to accelerate rollout of digital infrastructure in places such as Piccadilly.
Ensuring that a speedy rollout of enhanced digital connectivity picks up again will be vital part of promoting London’s prosperity post-COVID. Operators and public sector stakeholders are placing a heavy emphasis on the importance of better digital connectivity for social and economic recovery in London. The crisis has highlighted just how important digital connectivity is to local authorities, particularly as children living in wards that are both deprived and “digitally excluded” have ended up suffering the most from missed educational opportunities.
The Gigabit Connectivity Network for London will meet again after the appointment of the sub-regional digital champions, who we expect to join the Network on a permanent basis. Grant agreements for each of the new roles will be agreed shortly and the appointments are expected to be made by Autumn.