More than 40 MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Business have written to Ofcom to highlight the need for annual monitoring of mobile operators’ commitments on increasing rural 4G mobile coverage.

The cross-party group, chaired by Julian Sturdy MP, recently welcomed moves by Ofcom to maximise 4G coverage across the country. This included commitments for 500 new mobile masts in rural areas and 90% geographic coverage by all four networks across the UK. In return, Ofcom agreed to a reduction in costs for mobile operators on the upcoming sale of the 700Mhz spectrum which was freed up by the move to digital TV.

The letter has raised concerns, however, on how this will be monitored, with no obligation on mobile operators to report on successful mast completions until the end of the review process in 2024. It also notes that operators have historically been reluctant to build masts in rural areas owing to the significant costs involved.

West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper said:
“Many of my West Lancashire 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. I will continue to work with and lobby the network providers for increased coverage, but it is important that government and Ofcom puts in place any measures they can to encourage the rollout of coverage across rural patches and that the network providers feedback on their progress.”

Chair of the APPG on Rural Business Julian Sturdy MP said:
“While Ofcom’s initial announcement truly has the potential to revolutionise mobile coverage across the countryside, it will fall by the wayside if progress is not monitored on a regular basis. We need annual reporting to ensure that mobile operators are holding their promises to the public on delivering a 4G network which works for people wherever they live.”

The CLA (Country Land and Business Association) represents around 30,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses across England and Wales and runs the #4GForAll campaign, calling for greater investment from mobile operators in new masts in rural areas. It also provides the secretariat to the APPG on Rural Business.

CLA Deputy President Mark Bridgman said:
“Increasing 4G coverage will unlock the potential of rural businesses and the countryside and we cannot let this opportunity slip owing to lax oversight. Given mobile operators’ previous reluctance to invest in rural areas, annual reporting on progress should be compulsory.”

“Ofcom have made great strides in this area in recent times and it would be a shame if they did not take the simple step to give themselves the tools to publicly keep mobile operators to their word on expanding rural 4G coverage and ending the “digital wilderness”.”

The letter from the APPG on Rural Business to Ofcom, can be downloaded here. The CLA’s response to Ofcom’s consultation can be viewed here.

 

  1. The APPG on Rural Business works in Parliament to champion rural business and promote good policy outcomes for those who run rural enterprises.
  2. CLA members own or manage more than 10 million acres of rural land across England and Wales.
  3. 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.
  4. Find out more on CLA’s #4GForAll campaign which aims to overcome the shocking digital divide between urban and rural areas and campaigns for real action that delivers better mobile coverage for landowners, farmers and rural businesses across England and Wales.
  5. For more information about the CLA, visit: www.cla.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @CLAtweets
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