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What’s driving the digital divide?

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on Britain’s universal need for broadband connectivity. As more of us worked from home and subscribed to online streaming services, demand shot up significantly.

Despite these growing demands, Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2020: England report revealed some sobering statistics. Almost 20,000 premises in England could not access a decent broadband service or secure 4G coverage outdoors. 

Further, 1 in 50 homes and businesses in rural areas were not able to secure a 10mb download speed. This underscores a wider problem throughout the UK: the digital divide.


What is the digital divide?

Broadly speaking, the digital divide refers to the gulf between regions that can access information and communication technology, and those that cannot. Hearteningly, the Government has big plans to bridge this gap.

In March 2020, the UK Government introduced the Shared Rural Network, wherein popular mobile phone networks invested in new phone masts to extend coverage. Later, in December 2022, the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act was introduced. This would improve electronic communications infrastructure throughout the UK.

The digital divide is heavily weighted against rural areas, where just 81% of regions have fixed broadband coverage, compared to 98% of urban areas. This can have devastating economic effects on an area, for example:

  • Research from the Federation of Small Businesses says that 94% of small business owners rely on a broadband connection
  • In the UK Government’s Business Population Estimates for the UK and Regions 2022 report, 41% of entrepreneurs said they ran their businesses solely online
  • The same report stated that 69% of entrepreneurs in rural areas depended on digital technology.

While the UK is moving in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. So, what exactly is driving the digital divide?


The cost-of-living crisis

The cost-of-living crisis is putting up prohibitive connectivity barriers for UK homes and businesses. The Rural Services Network reported in September 2022 that rural areas were hit hardest by the crisis. Low-income houses are spending half their earnings on rent, some 5% higher than urban areas.


Hesitation over cost and time

Businesses in the UK are accelerating digital transformation, but many are still trepidatious about the costs and timescales involved. In the telecoms industry, the key priority is to build smarter rather than quicker, maintaining visibility with all stakeholders throughout the project. Automation can help to make this an agile process, focusing on marginal gains for better results.


Manual processes

Wayleave requests are critical for the widespread adoption of superfast broadband throughout the UK. However, this process continues to be hampered by slow practices and manual tasks. With 20 to 30% of full fibre build projects needing legal consent in the UK, we cannot afford to lose time to laborious tasks. 


How an automated wayleave process can help bridge the UK’s digital divide

Thankfully, the tide is turning. Every day, more and more altnets (independent telecommunications networks outside of BT Openreach and Virgin Media) are cropping up, helping address connectivity issues in rural and underprivileged areas.

These projects can only succeed with full visibility between all stakeholders, ensuring key bodies like the Land Registry are kept informed. At Trenches Law, we have developed a fully automated service which addresses the relationship between landowners and operators, offering game-changing functions such as:

  • Sending out a digital map of network build phases
  • Interrogating organisations like the Land Registry and other databases
  • Identifying relevant stakeholders.

This helps to break down the project into agile steps, bringing dates forward and meeting compliance targets. By freeing telecoms companies from the red tape of wayleave agreements, it opens up more opportunities for ambitious high-speed broadband projects to get off the ground.

Britain is seeking 97% gigabit broadband coverage by 2030. With the right processes from the off, we can make this a reality.

Find out how altnet Ogi teamed up with Trenches Law to facilitate a £200 million full fibre project throughout South Wales.

Keen to learn more? Access Trenches Law’s telecoms operators wayleave guide here.

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