I was recently having an interesting but off-topic chat with a Professor of Geography at the end of a meeting on rural broadband. His interest was in the levels of civic trust and how it varies across Europe. The Professor described a league table of trust levels among the population and their relationship with the government. What immediately struck me was this table was almost identical to the league table of fibre deployments within the EU – with the UK well down the list.

In searching for a possible link, the train of thinking went along the lines of:

  • High trust levels typically require high-levels of engagement and communication, and that is most effective at community level.
  • As a result local decisions are more likely to reflect local priorities (economic and social), and that has typically required a sharper focus on broadband both as a priority of a people undergoing economic and social change and of the state who wishes to ensure communication levels remain high.
  • This in turn leads to a very flexible and dynamic infrastructure model, more able to adapt to regional trends.

So by contrast, the implication is that lower levels of civic trust are more likely to create lower levels of infrastructure investment, which is also more lilkely to be inflexible. While some cultures, notably South Korea, have successfully deployed a national broadband programme from the centre, this approach hasn’t been successful in Western cultures.

The European markets where high-levels of broadband investment have been realised are where local municipalities had more freedom from central government to take decisions that their communities asked of them. The higher levels of civic trust meant that the mayors and political leaders had the confidence of the the people, and were in touch with the local needs and aspirations.

With the flexibility to adapt at local levels to economic micro-climates, investments in major infrastructures were more likely to be effective and better supported.

At the end of this conversation, the feeling was that, as the economic drivers of European societies adjust to the current climate, lower levels of civic trust may lead to a slower and less agile economy.

So is this an argument, that if the UK is to improve its economic flexibility and invest in broadband, it needs to make progress in decentralising government?

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