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London economy threatened by poor connectivity, says London Assembly report

The London Assembly Regeneration Committee describes the capital’s digital connectivity as “embarrassing” and calls on the new chief digital officer to solve the problem

London’s “sub-standard” digital connectivity is threatening the capital’s economic productivity, according to the London Assembly.

A report published today by the assembly’s regeneration committee says London’s low average broadband speed is holding the city back, and calls on the capital’s soon-to-be appointed chief digital officer (CDO) to tackle the issue.

“London’s economic productivity and international competitiveness face a significant threat in the form of poor digital connectivity,” the report said. “The capital is poorly served, suffering from ‘not-spots’, ‘digital deserts’ and a lack of fibre connections.” It said London is far behind smaller UK cities because telecommunications companies are “struggling to deliver for the capital’s business and residents”.

The report said that Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the government-owned programme that aims to deliver superfast broadband across the country, has tackled “easier-to-reach premises first” and has not delivered coverage for particular areas “as a whole”.

“Many premises have been counted as covered, but they still appear unlikely to receive superfast speeds owing to the poor quality or length of the old copper lines,” it said.

The committee called on the new CDO to provide leadership to both the public and private sectors in tackling London’s “not-spots” and said there is currently little incentive for providers to upgrade connections for small businesses and residents because of high infrastructure costs.

“Commercial viability is also more challenging for parts of London where residential density is very low,” it said. “Upgrading the infrastructure also means cabling, digging up roads and pavements, which are all costly and cause disruption.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan has already announced plans to set up a “not-spot team” that will work on a location-by-location basis. In its report, the committee also called for the mayor to look to initiatives for Wi-Fi where it has worked well, such as the City of London’s £5m Wi-Fi investment to boost wireless overage.

The project, one of London’s largest-ever investments in wireless infrastructure, should be fully operational by the autumn. The City of London Corporation is partnering with Telefónica’s O2 mobile network to deploy 400 4G mobile small cells on sites including lamp posts, street signs and buildings, enhancing mobile coverage at street level and preparing the City for the advent of 5G mobile networks around 2020. 

Connectivity ‘embarrassing’

Regeneration committee chairman Navin Shah said: “London’s digital connectivity is frankly embarrassing in some areas and will no doubt lead to major issues in terms of the city’s global attractiveness as a place to live, work and do business. We need to act before it is too late and London’s success is threatened.

“More can be done to solve London’s connectivity problems and with the imminent appointment of the CDO, the mayor can provide real strategic leadership in this essential area.” 

The report also called on the new CDO to work with London boroughs to remove administrative and planning barriers to enhancing connectivity in their areas, as well as tackling digital exclusion.

“The CDO must also support Londoners, individuals, businesses and charities to develop and enhance their digital skills,” the report said. 

“In 2016, 6% of London households did not have access to the internet, 7.2% of Londoners had never used the internet, and 16% did not have basic digital skills.

“The lack of digital skills holds back economic development. Most small businesses that use digital functions (ranging from email to cloud-computing) are twice as likely to report an increase in turnover than the 30% of small businesses in London that do not have basic digital skills.”

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