UK Government announces £1bn plan to 'solve' poor mobile coverage
But it is "not a done deal" says Nicky Morgan
The UK Government has announced a £1bn plan to solve poor mobile phone coverage in rural areas.
Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan has supported a proposal from mobile network operators to expand coverage to reach an additional 280,000 homes and give 4G to 95 per cent of the UK by 2025.
But the plan is “not yet a done deal” and the government is calling on industry to “move quickly” to reach a final agreement by early next year.
The plan for a ‘Shared Rural Network’ would involve operators and government sharing phone masts – something the government has described as a “world first”.
Operators said they would invest £530m which would be matched by a further £500m from the government.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said it would be a “huge boost” for consumers, particularly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “We are determined to make sure no part of the country is left behind when it comes to mobile connectivity.
“We are closing in on a deal with the mobile network operators so those living in rural areas will be able to get the fast and reliable mobile coverage they need and deserve.
“Brokering an agreement for mast sharing between networks alongside new investment in mobile infrastructure will mean people get good 4G signal no matter where they are or which provider they’re with.
She added: “But it is not yet a done deal and I want to see industry move quickly so we can reach a final agreement early next year.”
The announcement was welcomed by business and consumer organisations in Scotland, who called on operators and government to swiftly come to an agreement.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland said: “Only two fifths of Scotland’s geography can get good mobile coverage from all four mobile operators. This makes it more difficult to run a business, undermines local economies and means that Scottish consumers are paying over the odds for a patchy service.
“That’s why FSB has campaigned on this issue for years and why a new plan to address poor coverage is to be welcomed. The regulator and UK ministers must ensure that it delivers for Scotland, and that this action plan is co-ordinated with the Scottish Government’s digital infrastructure programmes.
“Too many Scottish local places have been overlooked by the mobile giants. Today’s announcement must mark the end of that approach.”
Citizen’s Advice Scotland communities spokesperson Gillian Fyfe said: “As the largest provider of consumer advice in the country, we welcome this initiative and hopes that the UK Government will respond positively so that network coverage can be expanded to more consumers across the UK.
“We know network coverage is a real problem in parts of Scotland, and we know this impacts on the ability of businesses as well as consumers to communicate effectively. Mobile phones and getting online are no longer a luxury for consumers but a vital utility to help people live, work and access services.
“Lack of connectivity can be a major hurdle for people who may be trying to claim social security benefits and complete job applications, which are increasingly moving online. So it is crucial that this investment is made by providers and the UK Government for the benefit of all consumers.”