The Local Government Association (LGA) has announced its belief that poorer households are being left in the 'broadband slow lane'. This is despite the fact that people in these households are more reliant on their broadband connections than ever before and may require faster internet connections to improve their job prospects.
As a result, the LGA is calling for the appointment of a dedicated Digital Exclusion minister. They believe that this individual should be given direct government responsibility for a new strategy to close the gap between deprived and affluent areas.
What the LGA report shows
The LGA's new report on digital exclusion has found that households in the most deprived parts of England are less likely to be able to get a form of fixed broadband that supports the fastest possible speeds.
The LGA found that access to fixed broadband is 15 percentage points lower in the most deprived areas than in the least deprived. This is in spite of the fact that people in these deprived areas use nearly 50 per cent more data than people in wealthier areas.
Meanwhile, separate data has shown that there is a strong link between the ability to access fixed broadband and higher earnings or better educational achievement. This is because the higher speeds make it easier for children to complete schoolwork or for adults to work from home.
What do the LGA want to happen?
Now, the LGA believes that a new country-wide strategy needs to be pursued. This strategy must ensure that each part of the country has access to future-proofed, gigabit capable connections. If this can be achieved, the LGA believes that it could transform communities and unleash everyone's full potential.
At present, the digital divide is compounded by the fact that not only do people in towns and cities benefit from faster download and upload speeds, but people in these areas also usually have the best mobile coverage.
The LGA acknowledges that fixed broadband may not always be the best solution for every situation. Due to this, the LGA thinks it's positive that the Government’s recently published Wireless Infrastructure Strategy recognises the need to review the way in which good coverage of 4G and 5G networks are defined and measured to ensure they reflect new and increasing uses. As a result, the LGA will work with Ofcom to improve the quality of mobile coverage reporting.
As part of its report, Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Digital Connectivity spokesperson for the LGA, said:
“The Government has pledged to give every home and business access to the fastest possible broadband, but this report demonstrates the digital divide is still holding some back in the broadband slow lane.
“We need a complete refresh of the current digital inclusion strategy, which is nearly a decade old, with a minister in charge to oversee it and make sure no one is left behind.
“Reliable access to high-quality fixed and mobile broadband means that you can boost your skills, grow a business and enhance your job prospects, while also playing a vital role in reducing social isolation by keeping people in touch with family and friends.
“Councils want to make sure that, no matter which part of the country you live in or your circumstances, everyone can experience the transformational benefits that fast internet access can bring.”
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