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MPs ask digital secretary to help speed up 4G rural rollout

Monday, May 14th 2018 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

More than 50 MPs have sent a joint letter to the digital secretary calling for improved 4G mobile coverage in rural areas.

They want a legally-binding coverage obligation imposed on the four network operators – EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 – to support the government’s ambition for mobile coverage to reach 95% of the UK’s landmass by 2022.

The letter, signed by 56 MPs with rural constituencies, also calls for new regulation to force operators to share their rollout plans with communities.

Earlier this month, the CLA called on Ofcom to get tougher with providers on the speed at which 4G is being rolled out in the countryside. Now Matt Hancock (pictured), the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, is being asked directly to step in and challenge current ambitions.

The government has previously estimated that reaching 95% coverage of geographic landmass would add something in the region of £75bn to the UK’s GDP.

'Just not good enough'

Julian Sturdy, MP for York Outer and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Rural Business, said: “Ofcom’s Connected Nations report in December 2017 revealed that while people inside 90% of UK premises can make telephone calls on all four mobile networks, this falls to 57% in rural areas.

“This is just not good enough and progress in connecting the countryside has been painfully slow. We are asking the Secretary of State to step in and work with Ofcom to ensure that the mobile operators speed up delivery of 4G to rural areas.”

Research published by the CLA earlier this year highlighted how few planning applications for new mobile phone masts in rural areas have been made in the past three years.

CLA deputy president Mark Bridgeman said: “For too long people living and working in the countryside have been disadvantaged by the mobile network operators’ failure to resolve poor signal and mobile ‘not-spots’ in rural areas.

“It is clear that the mobile operators will only make the investment needed to connect the countryside if they are forced to do so. While many rural communities seem to have been abandoned by the mobile operators, these 56 MPs are making sure the rural voice is heard and we look forward to the Secretary of State’s response.”

Planning policy a 'crucial piece of the puzzle'

Last week, the trade association representing the UK's mobile operators called for mobile to be considered on par with other forms of digital connectivity with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Hamish McLeod, the director of Mobile UK, said in response to a consultation on a revised draft of the NPPF: "Mobile connectivity and the planning framework that supports it must be treated with every bit as much importance as other forms of digital connectivity. The NPPF must give a clear policy steer that will lend significant weight to positive planning determinations, including sensitive areas of the country.

"The benefits of modern digital connectivity are very significant for the UK’s economy and our global competitiveness. The NPPF is a crucial piece of the puzzle that can stimulate a positive and proactive approach to enabling the deployment of our future networks."

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