Digital infrastructure more crucial than ever before

Ian O’Toole, partner at leading national law firm Weightmans

At the recent Leeds City Region roundtable at our offices in Leeds topics discussed included transport infrastructure, the profile of the city and digital infrastructure.

In recent weeks, much has changed. On the back of daily Government updates more and more people are not travelling to work or holding face to face meetings and many of us are working at home, relying on our own telephone lines and broadband providers.

We heard positive things at the roundtable about the City Council’s plans to roll out full fibre broadband throughout the city and the strength of the local digital economy. The requirement for this type of digital infrastructure has been brought into sharp focus in the current crisis. As millions work from home or stay at home accessing online and streaming services for work and entertainment it is key that both nationally and locally we have robust systems that have the capacity to deal with this digital traffic. It is also key that bandwith is secured for those areas that need it most, typically in crucial supply chains and the systems relied on by key workers.

For most of us our place of work is a community where friendships and relationships are formed. Social interaction, whether chatting over a coffee or collaborating on complex client issues are a key part of the job, and are undoubtedly beneficial for our mental health. As these opportunities are taken away it is important that we are able to retain our connections and face to face discussions, via Skype, Zoom or similar platforms, which can go a little way to replacing personal interactions.

The type of full fibre solution announced by the City Council is crucial to ensure that in future everyone can access the systems they need to remain connected both in normal and extraordinary circumstances. For the socially isolated, having the means to connect with others and or access online systems are as important as workers accessing office systems at home.

The problems with physical infrastructure remain. The current pandemic will, in time, be solved, which is when we can refocus our efforts on getting the transport links the region deserves, and the new devolved West Yorkshire region mayor will undoubtedly play a big part in this. We have learned in recent weeks that connectivity and connections run much deeper than roads and railways and while many of us are isolated, it is the digital connections that provide us all with personal and professional lifelines.