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Time for Ofcom to get tough on operators' rural 4G coverage plans, says CLA

Friday, May 4th 2018 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Regulators should be tougher on mobile network providers when it comes to improving 4G coverage in the countryside, according to an association of rural landowners.

The CLA, which represents some 30,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses in England and Wales, said mobile operators are reluctant to deliver coverage in rural areas on their own initiative.

In recent weeks, Cable.co.uk has reported on EE’s efforts to improve mobile connectivity in Scotland and plans by O2 to build a new mast in Worcestershire following a lengthy planning process.

But the CLA says progress in rural areas simply hasn’t been fast enough and points to Ofcom’s most recent Connected Nations report, which shows that while 90% of UK premises have an indoor signal from all networks (EE, Vodafone, Three and O2) this falls to 57% in rural areas.

Research based on FOI requests made by the CLA earlier this year also showed a lack of planning applications submitted for new mobile phone masts in rural planning authority areas.

'Rubbish signal and empty promises'

It wants Ofcom, following a consultation on improving mobile coverage, to take a “more robust stance” and raise the proposed coverage obligations associated with the upcoming sale of 700 MHz spectrum – airwaves currently used to transmit digital TV signals that will be made available to network operators in 2019.

CLA deputy president Mark Bridgeman said: “People living and working in the countryside are fed up with rubbish signal and empty promises from the mobile network providers.

“It limits rural businesses, hampers efforts to work more efficiently, presents a safety concern and keeps communities in a digital dark age.

“It is clear that mobile operators will only invest in rural coverage if they are forced to do so. Ofcom must take a stronger line. They can do this by requiring legally binding targets that will deliver on the Government’s stated ambition of 95% geographic coverage by the end of 2022, and robustly challenge the industry’s constant excuses for not investing in rural areas.”

Mr Bridgeman also called on Ofcom to make more accountable by forcing them to publish details of their existing infrastructure networks as well as their rollout plans.

“This is what is required of fixed line broadband providers,” he added. “As well as delivering necessary accountability, this measure would lead to far more sharing of masts and significant cost savings for the industry.”

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