The city of London faces a threat to its productivity and competitiveness from poor connectivity, including “not spots,” “digital deserts,” and a lack of fiber connections, according to the London Assembly Regeneration Committee’s report on Digital Connectivity (PDF) in the city.
The report is drawn from evidence collected from local residents, businesses, local authorities, and internet service providers, and sets out priorities for the London mayor’s digital strategy and the Chief Digital Officer the city intends to add.
The continued connectivity problems in London are particularly frustrating given the ongoing boom in the local data center market.
London lags behind other U.K. cities such as York, Coventry and Edinburgh for internet coverage and speed, according to the report, and ranked 26 out of 33 European capital cities for average download broadband speed in 2014. The report calls broadband the “fourth utility,” and points out that most London residents and businesses are served by “fibre to the cabinet” with the “last mile” of service delivered over old copper wire.
It also references a 2016 study by Thinkbroadband which shows that while some areas of the U.K. have relatively high percentages of customers covered by ultra-fast broadband, London ranked 30th out of 63 cities in the U.K. with 77.4 percent coverage, while the national average is a mere 51.4 percent. Similarly, while areas of no or very low mobile connectivity are usually rural, certain areas of London are such “not spots” due to factors like infrastructure limitations and building height. Less than three-quarters of London has 4G coverage.
“The Mayor has planning policies aimed at reducing the inequality and exclusion experienced by sections of Londoners, such as Policy 3.2 in the London Plan on improving health and addressing health inequalities,” the report authors concluded. “The policy states that ‘boroughs should work with key partners to identify and address significant health issues facing their area and monitor policies and interventions for their impact on reducing health inequalities.’ The committee recommends the Mayor uses the London Plan in the same way to encourage boroughs to address digital exclusion.”
The report also provides a priority checklist for the incoming CDO, which includes supporting digital skills development, as well as bureaucratic and infrastructure-access issues. It recommends several measures to tackle digital exclusion, and identifies areas for public sector intervention following the 2014 assessment by the City of London Corporation that “big telecom” had failed to deliver the necessary solutions.