DORSET remains in the slow lane for digital coverage – and is likely to continue that way unless new radical solutions can be found.

Dorset Council says the county is well behind England averages for gigabit coverage and contrasts poorly with neighbouring Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole where there is 83 per cent coverage – compared to Dorset’s 37 per cent.

A report to councillors concludes that mobile connectivity across the county is “patchy” from the four major providers with the risk that services will get worse, not better, as 2G and 3G services are switched off.

Much of the problems come from the rural nature and topography of the county making service provision less cost-effective than in urban areas.

A Dorset Council report, to be considered next week, concludes that the county needs to make network providers more welcome and says that more radical and innovative solutions will be required in hard to reach areas, included shared networks.

It says that failure to improve coverage will restrict improvements in productivity, economic growth and community service and also have environmental impacts as people will continue to need to travel if they are unable to link up digitally.

“The impact of COVID-19 has demonstrated the absolute necessity to have reliable, resilient and up-to-date digital infrastructure. This will support economic activity and provide community services. The infrastructure and ability to exploit its potential are essential to enable inclusive growth and prosperity,” said a statement from the Dorset Council Economic Growth Strategy.

The council says that much has been done to improve the situation, the report claiming: “There is currently significant commercial activity building gigabit networks in Dorset; with a market which is much more diverse than has previously been the case,” but says that central and local government will need to continue with interventions to improve areas where commercial provision is considered not to be viable.

Councillors at the April 18th committee will be told that while connectivity needs to be improved there is also a balance which has to be achieved when it come to protecting Dorset highly protected landscape.

“How can we strike the right balance between protecting Dorset’s unique environment while at the same time ensuring that we facilitate the improvements to digital infrastructure that modern communities and economies require?

“National providers of fixed and mobile networks, working to national targets, will prioritise locations that are easier, quicker and less costly. Dorset Council is not an attractive or easy partner for network providers to work with.”