August 8, 2022
Guest blog – Doug Parrant, Essex County Council: Driving forward plans to become a digital-first county
At Essex County Council, we recognise the benefits that digital can bring – from enabling economic growth and supporting people in getting the best start in life and ageing well, to helping to create a great place to live and work, and transforming our public services to achieve more with less. We’re driving forward plans for Essex to become a digital-first county and have launched a Digital Strategy for Essex which aims to boost digital connectivity and tackle digital exclusion.
Our strategy builds on the success of our superfast broadband programme, which has boosted connections to 160,000 homes and businesses – and was responsible for 1 in 6 addresses in Essex being able to access superfast speeds during the pandemic.
It’s expected that by the end of 2023, 99% of all addresses in Essex will have access to superfast speeds, as a result of both state-funded and commercial rollouts. In our strategy, one of our goals is for all addresses in Essex to have access to superfast speeds and we’ll be focusing on that final 1% – most of which are in rural, hard-to-reach areas of the county – to make sure these addresses can also benefit from a good broadband connection.
Given that more than 20% of Essex businesses are based in rural areas, we know that bringing connections to these places is key to boosting the Essex economy and giving both employers and employees the equal opportunity to contribute. To help serve these areas with access to connectivity, we’re looking to develop a local gigabit grant scheme which builds on Building Digital UK’s (BDUK) Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, where we’ll provide additional funding to reach the more challenging rural addresses. The first of our schemes will be launched in rural Braintree – identified as one of the key levelling up areas in our county, which is at risk of being left behind in the digital revolution due to a lack of connectivity.
Delivering a connected county with mobile connectivity
We also recognise that mobile connectivity is as important as fixed broadband in delivering a connected county, and our strategy target is that by 2025, every property in Essex will have access to 4G mobile signal. This will be complemented by 5G coverage available to more than 50% of the Essex geography.
We know that access to mobile connectivity is more important than ever, with smartphones transforming the way we live and work. But the benefits of improving mobile connectivity go beyond better mobile coverage. Upgrading mobile infrastructure has the potential to drive local economic growth by revolutionising how Essex businesses are run, tackle digital exclusion, improve health and social care innovation, and save energy in our homes.
We’re actively engaging with the mobile network operators to support their local rollout plans for 4G and 5G, understand the current climate, and what they need from us. In addition, we’re continuing to work with our partners to drive the deployment of faster digital connections, making use of the county council’s assets, including street furniture and properties. Adding to this, we’re learning more about the value that 5G-connected technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) can provide organisations with, in terms of opportunities for business growth, innovation and inward investment, and how best to share this information in our future campaigns.
Championing digital inclusion is another aspect which is central to our Digital Strategy. We want to ensure our residents have the confidence to take advantage of digital services and employment opportunities, as we know that enabling people to build the skills they need to be part of the business recovery is key to a stronger economy for the future.
We’re excited to be driving forward this vital work and are calling on our partners and others working in the digital space in Essex to come together and collaborate, so together we can deliver excellent digital connectivity across our county. As Cllr Lesley Wagland OBE, Essex County Council Cabinet Member for Economic Renewal, Infrastructure and Planning, has said: “We want to make sure no one is left behind when it comes to the digital revolution.” For Essex, this is a priority – and we look forward to sharing more as we see plans come into fruition.
About Building Mobile Britain
Building Mobile Britain is a campaign created by Mobile UK seeking to work with national and local government, as well as interested industry groups to overcome the challenges we face with expanding the existing mobile networks, while also developing innovative services for customers.
See here for further information - or #BuildingMobileBritain
Head of Policy and Communications
Tel: 07887 911 076