Connecting the countryside

30 January 2019

Fly tipping

As we come to the first anniversary of the CLA's #4GforAll campaign, CLA Public Affairs Adviser Eleanor Wood takes a look at the significant gains over the last year.

Ellie Wood

We’ve have just come up to the first anniversary of launching our #4GForAll Campaign and what a year it’s been.  Throughout last year the CLA worked to highlight the injustice felt by those living, working and visiting rural areas as mobile operators were abandoning the countryside in favour of lucrative consumers in already well-connected urban areas. 

So, what have we done? 

March 2018 – The CLA published a report based on FOI data from across England and Wales highlighting that mobile phone operators were failing to submit planning applications for masts for new masts to improve coverage in rural areas. We worked to expose this in the national press in April, with features in the Telegraph.

May 2018 – After CLA meetings with numerous MPs on the issue and highlighting the poor 4G availability in their constituencies and the poor service being delivered to consumers, 56 MPs wrote to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary pressing him to place more pressure on the mobile industry to improve their record in rural areas.

June 2018 – Although pleased by the engagement with politicians and officials, the CLA wanted to take things to the next step and worked with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Business, aiding a group of influential MPs to conduct an inquiry into the mobile operators. This involved all of the mobile operators attending an evidence session in Parliament.

July 2018 – The CLA didn’t just limit our campaign to MPs and officials but helped raise public support by raising awareness of the issue, all over the country with the summer show season.

September 2018 – The APPG concluded its inquiry by publishing their report ‘4G in Rural Areas, how to close the digital divide’. The report held five key recommendations:.

  • The introduction of rural roaming allowing users in specific poorly covered areas to roam between operators
  • Increasing transparency and providing more detail to rural consumers
  • That when seeking to improve coverage, boosting signals should take precedence over the government making a profit
  • That a holistic approach is taken by planning authorities when deciding on where to place masts
  • That Ofcom, the operators and Government should work more closely together

October 2018 – The CLA brought the #4GForAll campaign to Conservative party conference where we held a panel debate with a representative from Mobile UK, and Digital Minister Margot James on the need for better connectivity across rural areas.

December 2018 – Ofcom listened to the CLA and in its annual report and plan for the next year outlined bold steps into improving 4G coverage and holding mobile operators to account (see below).

January 2019 – CLA President Tim Breitmeyer met with Digital Minister Margot James to push for continued improvement across the countryside.

What did Ofcom announce (December 2018)? 

  • Mobile operators will have to build 500 new mobile masts in rural areas between 2020-2024 
  • A legal target for operators to cover 90% of the geographic UK. 
  • A reduction in the cost of new spectrum sales to operators by £300 – 400 million in recognition of them investing in new infrastructure in rural areas. 
  • More data available for rural consumers to understand what coverage looks like in their area. 
  • First steps towards rural roaming by allowing operators  to arrange for a customer to use a rival network if they  provide the best coverage in the area.

Just last week the CLA met with Digital Minister Margot James to discuss how the mobile operators will be monitored for building the proposed 500 mobile masts across rural areas and how rural roaming could be encouraged further. Representatives from the APPG for rural business took the report to the Secretary of State Jeremy Wright, to directly voice their desire to boost rural connectivity. 

We have had some amazing successes over the last 12 months, but it’s not time to rest on our laurels. It is imperative that we continue our fight and make sure that the countryside is properly connected.