All cities and individuals have benefitted in many ways from better digital connectivity and technology over recent decades, from keeping in touch with loved ones to high wage jobs in sectors that hardly existed 20 years ago. But these benefits have been less extensive, and the downsides more pronounced for cities, firms and individuals without the skills to adapt to and take up the opportunities that better technology and faster fixed and mobile internet have brought.
With the rollout of new and more extensive networks of full fibre and 4G and soon 5G networks, city leaders, national government and businesses must work together to ensure that this investment in the ‘hardware’ of new fixed and mobile digital connectivity in cities can happen as rapidly and effectively as possible. New ways of working at the city level and deployment methods that take advantage of the extensive public estate and realm across cities should be explored to provide better public and commercial services, opportunities for research and development and potential revenues for cities. And government policy to improve the rollout of this infrastructure should be reviewed if it is not achieving its intended outcome.
This new and improved ‘hardware’ must be matched at the local and national level by far better ‘software’ that gives individuals, businesses and cities the skills and confidence to take up the potential of better digital connectivity. This will require greater collaboration at the city level to support a cohesive, efficient and responsive skills system, as well as leadership by cities in embracing digital innovation. Failure to do so will likely see the greatest rewards of better digital infrastructure once again accrue to those places and people that have already benefitted from previous advances in technology, thus widening existing digital divides.