A recent study by the Digital Connectivity Forum (DCF), a leading industry think-tank, suggests that the UK’s deployment of gigabit broadband and 5G mobile networks could be enhanced through better communication, collaboration, and consistency between local authorities and the telecommunications sector.

Currently, more than 76% of UK properties have access to a fixed gigabit-capable broadband ISP network. However, this number drops to 53% when considering only FTTP connections, with the gigabit figure inflated by Virgin Media’s Hybrid Fibre Coax network. Furthermore, Ofcom’s recent data shows that 5G outdoor coverage from at least one provider reaches 73-82% of UK properties. Yet, when evaluating outdoor coverage offered by all operators collectively, this percentage significantly drops to between 12-22%.

The DCF report engaged with 31 entities involved in digital connectivity—including councils, network operators, governmental bodies, and regulatory authorities and delved deep into the role local authorities play in facilitating such infrastructures. It offers 27 actionable recommendations, asserting that their comprehensive implementation could resolve a significant portion of the challenges local authorities face during the deployment of digital connectivity. Interestingly, several of these suggestions echo points that have frequently surfaced in previous reports on the subject.

The report also highlights that local authorities with a well-defined digital strategy tend to be more proactive in mitigating obstacles to both fixed and mobile installations. Concurrently, there’s a strong recommendation for local authorities to designate ‘digital champions’ and enhance their understanding of the intricacies of digital infrastructure operations.

A selection of some of the key recommendations is provided below, with the full list available here. However, it’s still uncertain how many of these suggestions will ultimately be embraced and implemented.

Theme 1: Communication and Engagement

Department for science, innovation and technology

  • The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology should dispatch letters to Local Authorities, offering definitive guidance regarding the necessity and function of digital champions within their ranks. There should be considerations to make this mandatory, akin to other pivotal roles.
  • Allocate dedicated funding to local authorities to bolster the role of the digital champion. This role should come with a standardized job description and skill set criteria to maintain uniformity across all local authorities. The responsibilities and goals of the digital champion should align with the UK Government’s overarching objectives and benchmarks for digital infrastructure, ensuring that local digital strategies are in harmony with the nation’s broader digital goals.


  • Telecom providers might benefit from adopting a “digital champion” model akin to local authorities. Such an approach could enhance communication and effectively lower existing barriers.
  • Telecom operators ought to collaborate with local authorities to create transparent and uniform communication blueprints. These plans should ensure effective engagement with all relevant parties, including the general public, throughout the planning phase.

Local Authorities

  • It’s imperative that planning and highways teams stay updated on the most recent planning legislation, encompassing the latest amendments to the ECC and permitted development rights associated with digital infrastructure rollouts. Additionally, these teams should be well-versed with up-to-date guidance and industry best practices, including resources like BDUK’s Barrier Busting Handbook.
  • Adopt a forward-thinking attitude towards digital infrastructure deployment across all departments, guaranteeing that local strategies and agendas are in sync with national goals. This involves ensuring that local policies aimed at minimizing street clutter are weighed appropriately against the essential requirements of digital infrastructure.

Theme 2: Planning

Department for science, innovation and technology

  • As a priority, provide support to update Northern Ireland’s planning regulations in relation to telecoms infrastructure including permitted development rights to avoid further misalignment with the other UK nations.
  • Examine the current planning procedure with respect to preliminary planning guidelines and evaluate the fee structures set by local authorities. There should be a creation of a guidance document regarding the preliminary planning process. This document should provide local authorities with clearer instructions on what defines ‘pre-planning application’ advice and should also present a suitable fee framework.

Scottish Government

  • Examine the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development Scotland) Act to confirm that it facilitates the rapid deployment of digital infrastructure. This is crucial to achieve the coverage objectives for the SRN and the goals specified in the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy.

Local Authorities

  • Conduct a study of planning application denials to comprehend the underlying reasons for these refusals and to identify potential areas for enhancement.

Theme 3: Street and Roadworks

Department for science, innovation and technology

  • Collaborate with the DfT to amplify the advantages of flexible permits to local authorities. This includes publicizing any upcoming trials by the DfT related to these schemes, aiming to boost the broader acceptance of flexi permit systems.

Department for Transport

  • Collaborate with the devolved governments to establish a consistent, UK-wide strategy for overseeing street works. This approach should take into account the various digital technologies in use, aiming to improve the management of extensive infrastructure rollouts.
  • Examine the key performance indicators (KPIs) for street and road works currently tracked by highway authorities. Analyze these KPIs on a national scale to discern discrepancies in the data reported and to guarantee that they are still relevant for the extensive rollout of new digital infrastructure.


  • Telecom providers should prioritize early discussions with local authorities, encompassing both highways and planning departments, as a routine step in their deployment planning. This proactive approach aids in preventing deployment challenges, like network redesigns due to planning rejections, and ensures synchronization with other street work initiatives.
  • Telecom companies should initiate programs aimed at elevating the work quality of their street works subcontractors, emphasizing health and safety, planning, and communication. It’s vital for operators to establish proper governance, which includes continuous monitoring, audits, and on-site inspections to ascertain that work meets the desired standards.

Local Authorities

  • Explore the possible advantages of adopting a flexible permit system by drawing insights from past successful experiments, notably the Joint Authorities Group (JAG), Openreach, and the trial conducted by Sheffield City Council with the backing of DfT and DSIT.

Theme 4: Local Authorities as Landlords and Site Providers

Local Authorities

  • Make certain that precise asset information is accessible to both the industry and internal sectors. Additionally, any external representatives serving as intermediaries should prioritize the overarching advantages that digital connectivity offers, rather than solely emphasizing revenue maximization from assets.
  • Promote access to public sector properties like land, rooftops, and other resources, including street fixtures. Where feasible, offer some of these assets on a trial basis to telecom operators to assess their practicality.


Overall, there’s a need to prioritize enhancing communication among stakeholders and fostering a more cooperative mindset for the effective rollout of this essential national infrastructure.

While effective communication is essential, it won’t address all the issues at hand. Attention must also be directed towards updating and ensuring that policies and guidelines align with the needs of present and upcoming technologies. Furthermore, uniformity in applying these policies by those in charge is crucial.