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.
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 #4GForAllcampaign, 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”.”