The Connecting Cambridgeshire digital programme – which has had notable success in rolling out superfast broadband – is being extended to generate further improvements to mobile, broadband and public wi-fi coverage. It is a proactive approach, which not only seeks to understand the barriers that prevent mobile connectivity from being improved, but also aims to break those barriers down.
The programme has political support from the mayor and a fully-funded and dedicated delivery team. The team is called the Enabling Digital Delivery (EDD), and it will support plans for full fibre networks, 5G mobile and improvements to mobile coverage. The intention is to improve network coverage across the whole geography of the county – including A and B roads, and rail services by 2022.
The EDD has several other responsibilities that will support it in its aims to improve mobile connectivity. These are: developing relationships with mobile network operator working across multiple public sector bodies and boundaries; and, being the point of contact to coordinate wayleaves, street works licences and planning, and making public sector assets available.
Norfolk County Council created its Digital Innovation and Efficiency Committee in the summer of 2017. The Committee’s remit includes: extending access to superfast broadband across Norfolk; using technology to better deliver Council services; and, championing the ambition to improve digital and mobile connectivity by working with the government and telecoms industry.
The Committee has assessed how the new Electronic Communications Code (ECC) will affect income from telecommunications equipment on the council’s property estate. It concluded that the ECC may lead to a reduction in income, but that reduced rents may open-up new sites for mobile operators to use that were not previously economically viable. The decision was to apply new rates quickly to allow operators to commit to new sites. In other words, the council prioritised connectivity over income because of the economic and community benefits it can bring.
To help understand where connectivity is needed, the Committee commissioned a survey to get a better picture of mobile voice and data coverage within the county – the survey was conducted along more than 3,400 miles of Norfolk’s roads and at 30 railway stations and on mainline railways. The findings included how many calls attempts were successful, where mobile 3G and/or 4G data coverage could be accessed, and how many attempts to browse the web and stream video using mobile data were successful.
The results will be used to work in partnership with mobile providers to improve coverage and tackle notspots. Not only this, but the Council has made the survey data freely available, allowing anybody to analyse mobile connectivity within their area.
North Yorkshire is the largest rural county in England. To help address the typical mobile connectivity issues faced by rural communities, NYCC created the role of “Programme Manager – Mobile Phone Coverage”. The creation of this role has allowed three key partnerships to be forged that will create a better environment to improve mobile connectivity:
- Partnership One – new links with mobile operators. Initially, meetings were held on a one-on-one basis with mobile operators and then collectively at a roundtable event. The purpose of developing these links was to understand what the operators’ plans were for the roll-out of infrastructure.
- Partnership Two – understanding the approaches of planning authorities and economic strategy departments. This helped to build an understanding of why mobile infrastructure was not going ahead. As a result, the role holder now gets asked by both mobile operators and district councils to review planning applications.
- Partnership Three – accessing funding from the LEP. The council has been granted £1m from the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership’s Local Growth Fund. The funding will support improvements in mobile infrastructure.
The next stage of work for the council is to get a better understanding of the not-spots within the county and understand what other funding is available to facilitate the build of mobile infrastructure. An exercise is also underway to understand it business rate relief can be deployed to support the build of mobile infrastructure.