The crucial role of digital connectivity to the city of Wolverhampton

By Heather Clark, Head of Digital Projects at the City of Wolverhampton Council

In this special feature, our guest contributor Heather Clark talks about the importance of improving connectivity in Wolverhampton, and how her role as Digital Champion has assisted the rollout of digital infrastructure and improved connectivity in the city, bringing wider benefits to residents and businesses in the city and positive impacts on the economy.

Digital connectivity is important to the City of Wolverhampton. It is the backbone of a modern thriving economy, driving productivity and spreading growth, and in delivering effective and efficient public services. This has become increasingly important with COVID accelerating the adoption of digital, which is critical to growing our economy, and empowering recovery. Future-proofed digital connectivity is the building block to really maximise the benefits of digital for the city. Hence, driven by digital is one of our cross-cutting themes of our council plan because of its crucial role in delivering better outcomes for local people.

City of Wolverhampton Council initially identified a Digital Champion, Coordinator and a Councillor Digital Innovation Champion to support the rollout of full fibre and 5G in recognition of the benefits connectivity can bring to the city and to reduce barriers to the rollout. We adopted our Wolverhampton Digital Infrastructure strategy in January 2020, focusing on supporting the rollout of future-proof digital infrastructure across the city. At the time, the city faced key challenges with gaps in superfast coverage and 5G rollout, with less than 1% full fibre coverage. In relation to supporting the rollout of 5G, the Council lacked the knowledge of the Electronic Communications Code and understanding of the changes it brings. Therefore, we worked with industry experts at West Midlands 5G (WM5G), who supported us to introduce new processes and standardised agreements to facilitate this rollout. Furthermore, we learnt the importance of pre application discussions with planning on the siting of 5G masts and the benefits of licence agreements to use our street lighting for hosting telecoms equipment.

As Digital Champion, it is rewarding to see the impact of our strategy in Wolverhampton. We have made significant progress, with all 4 mobile network operators rolling out 5G in the city, assisted by our proactive approach which has accelerated the rollout by at least six months. New commercial rollout of full fibre broadband is also underway, with infrastructure being upgraded or planned for upgrades.
We have established a digital Wolverhampton partnership to drive the city’s approach to digital, provided strategic leadership and also appointed a dedicated Cabinet Member for Digital City.

City of Wolverhampton Council Cabinet Member for Resources and Digital City, Councillor Obaida Ahmed, said:

‘A key aim of Wolverhampton’s Digital Strategy is creating a Gigabit and Smart City with future-proofed digital infrastructure, utilising full fibre broadband and 5G to transform the delivery of services and develop new applications to unlock potential. Most importantly, this vital infrastructure will boost businesses and provide jobs and opportunities for local people.’

As a digital driven city, our ambition is to ensure all our residents benefit by being 100% digitally included and grow our digital economy and talent pipeline.

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