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Government has ‘failed’ to tackle rural mobile coverage issue - EE

Thursday, March 19th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The government should be doing more to improve mobile coverage in rural areas than the measures announced in yesterday’s budget, according to EE.

The UK’s largest mobile operator welcomed Chancellor George Osborne’s promise to invest £600m in improving mobile networks but said a more targeted strategy was needed.

A statement from EE said: “Despite some positive initiatives outlined in the budget to support digital infrastructure, government has again failed to outline clear policies to tackle the UK’s biggest connectivity issue – the underlying reasons why parts of rural Britain suffer from poor mobile coverage.

“It is critical that the next government revises business rates and reforms the archaic Electronic Communications Code (ECC) to support the rollout of mobile coverage and wireless broadband in rural areas.”

The ECC regulates the siting of mobile masts and broadband infrastructure in the UK.

The government has admitted the code is “out of date and in urgent need of reform” and earlier this month started consulting on reforming the code.

Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers’ Union, welcomed the proposed rollout of 100Mbps broadband across the UK, but had a warning for the government.

“We must not forget those rural communities who have yet to reap the benefits of a decent speed for broadband and might only get a basic legal entitlement of 5Mbps and subsidised satellite services,” he said.

John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said digital connectivity is critical for small businesses and a target download speed of 100Mbps matched the group’s recommendations.

“Of equal importance is the increase of the Universal Service Obligation to 5Mbps, which is an important first step to help rural businesses access the minimum standards of digital services they so urgently require."

'Ambitious plans'

The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA) said it supports the chancellor’s ambition of connecting the majority of UK homes to “ultrafast” broadband.

It also welcomed Mr Osborne’s support for different technologies to deliver broadband to remote areas and the extension of the connection vouchers scheme, which offers businesses up to 3,000 towards the cost of a broadband upgrade.

ISPA secretary general Nicholas Lansman said: “The new government ambitions for broadband are good news.

“ISPA will be working with the government to understand how these ambitious plans will be delivered. Government will only be able to do so in tandem with the breadth of industry, to ensure government support is properly targeted and fosters competition.”

Rupert Wood, principal analyst at Analysys Mason, said it was “difficult to judge” the new target of 100Mbps broadband.

“By when, how it is to be funded, and what technology will be used are all left unclear,” he said.

Mr Wood said 100Mbps is a step up from what the UK’s current broadband infrastructure is capable of delivering and that 30Mbps was a more achievable target by 2020.

“The government has promised it would consult on raising the universal service obligation to 5Mbps from dial-up speeds in the next parliament There are new architectures and technologies that will help to reduce the cost and more use of pole infrastructure in rural areas can cut costs further.

“BT outlined a vision for ‘most homes’ in UK to be passed by 500Mbps within a decade earlier this year. So arguably the government vision is less ambitious than BT, it depends on the dates and what is meant by ‘almost’ or ‘most’.

“Either vision, given the current state of copper-based broadband technologies, means a major extension of the fibre distribution network to bring it closer to premises.”

Mr Wood said 4G mobile technologies could be used to deliver 100Mbps speeds to many premises but would struggle to cope with the data demands put on fixed networks and would need “costly new infrastructure”.

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