How can communications network providers work constructively with local authorities?
Communications network providers may reap benefits from a collaborative approach to network deployment, providing local authorities with visibility of their overall aims and broader deployment strategy. The following are some steps we would encourage providers to take when engaging with local authorities.
Identify a Single Point of Contact for local authority engagement
Network providers should provide a Single Point of Contact (“SPOC”) for local authorities prior to, and during, the deployment of digital infrastructure. Introducing a SPOC, and making their contact information available to local authorities, can support the rollout of networks by providing an effective means for local authorities to engage with operators and vice versa.
The SPOC will also be responsible for coordinating the work of those responsible for builds and any subcontractors, making sure they are aware of, and adhere to, local policies and processes as outlined by local authorities.
Engage early, and regularly, in the deployment process
Network providers should engage with local authorities at the earliest opportunity to discuss deployment plans, making use of the pre-planning application process, in order to minimise costs, time, complexity and uncertainty associated with the deployment of fixed and mobile infrastructure.
Operators should provide as much information as possible regarding the areas for deployment, public sector assets and facilities that might be needed, as well as timescales for their builds.
The SPOC can meet with the digital champion and other key stakeholders (as frequently as agreed, dependent on deployment plans) to resolve, where possible, any potential barriers to the effective deployment of broadband and mobile infrastructure.
Network providers can also provide local authorities with the details of all current mobile phone masts and fibre broadband cabinets to enable the provision of an up-to-date mast register on an annual basis on 1st April each year. This should also include the plans for network expansion for the next year. They can also provide local authorities with regular updates on infrastructure upgrades and when new services are live in areas.
Work with local authorities to identify opportunities to communicate the benefits of enhanced connectivity
Industry is encouraged to work with the digital champion to identify opportunities to explain the need for enhanced broadband and mobile networks to local authority teams, residents and local businesses.
For instance, effective and transparent resident engagement can highlight the importance of works happening in their area, the benefits of connectivity, and allow operators and local authorities to respond meaningfully to any questions from residents about installations.
Communities and key local authority stakeholders are more likely to support plans for the rollout of infrastructure if they are aware of the economic, social and well-being benefits for both businesses and residents in urban and rural areas.
For example, in rural areas, access to e-learning resources can help with schoolwork; improved video-calling to distant family members can reduce loneliness; and reliable access to national and local authority services can increase fairness.
These opportunities could, for instance, include presentations on digital connectivity at general planning meetings, or County Council or District Council Network sessions.