Connect the countryside: 55 MPs call on Digital Secretary to act on mobile coverage

55 MPs have sent a joint letter to Digital Secretary Matthew Hancock asking him to challenge the current speed and ambition of 4G coverage roll out in rural areas.     

Expressing concern about progress to date, the MPs are calling for a legally binding coverage obligation imposed on all four major operators to support the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport’s stated ambition to deliver mobile coverage to 95% of UK geographic landmass by the end of 2022. The Government estimated that achieving this ambition would add £75 billion to UK GDP.

The letter has been signed by 50+ MPs from parties including the Conservative Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. It has been co-ordinated by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Rural Business, which is chaired by Julian Sturdy MP (York Outer).

West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper said:
“Many of my constituents live in rural areas where internet and mobile connectivity can be far slower than the national averages and this impacts on their daily lives. While I will continue to work with and lobby the network providers for increased coverage, it is important that government outs in place any measures it can to encourage the rollout of coverage across rural patches.”

Julian Sturdy MP 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.”

The MPs’ collective action follows a report by the CLA (Country Land and Business Association) last month which revealed that in 2015, 2016 and 2017 mobile network operators have been failing to submit applications for new masts to improve mobile coverage in some of the rural areas with the worst 4G coverage.

CLA Deputy President Mark Bridgeman, who farms in Northumberland, 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 50 MPs are making sure the rural voice is heard and we look forward to the Secretary of State’s response.”

The MPs’ joint letter asks the Digital Secretary to take urgent action to ensure better coverage, including:

  • regulation imposing a legally binding coverage obligation on all four major operators;
  • a rethink of Ofcom’s statutory obligations that clarifies that its main purpose must be to work towards the delivery of universal quality mobile coverage and;
  • a significant change in the rules on transparency that prevent mobile operators hiding behind ‘commercial confidentiality’ and refusing to tell communities where and when they plan to roll out coverage

Read the MPs’ joint letter in full and see the list of signatories at www.cla.org.uk/4GForAll

  1. The CLA has 30,000 members across rural England and Wales.
  2. As a membership organisation, the CLA supports landowners by advising them on how best to protect and maximise their asset: the land. We are dedicated to supporting landowners and their businesses. Our success is measured by how effectively we do that. We have a team of experts in London and a regional structure able to give local support.
  3. We have been looking after the interests of our members, as well as promoting the positive aspects of land ownership, land management and rural business activities for the past 111 years. CLA members own or manage approximately half the rural land in England and Wales, and the resulting expertise puts us in a unique position to formulate policies and lobby effectively.
  4. For more information about the CLA, visit: www.cla.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @CLANorth
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