CLA Senior Rural Business and Economy Adviser Charles Trotman looks at the government's decision to invest £1bn to end poor rural connectivity
It is not very often that you can say the long hours you put into a job is worth it. Dealing with telecommunications policy and deployment is often painstaking to the point that you may be on the verge of a major breakthrough only for the other party to pull out at the last moment. It has often felt like that with the idea of a Shared Rural Network for mobile connectivity.
Everyone who lives, works and takes time off to enjoy the countryside knows that mobile coverage for a number of years has been lamentable. It is not enjoyable having to stick your head out of an attic window simply to get 2 bars on your iPhone. And it’s not particularly efficient if you run a rural business to have very poor mobile connectivity.
But the Government’s announcement today that it will give the go-ahead to the mobile operators desire to widen rural connectivity through a shared network can mean that it will soon be far easier to use your mobile for what it was intended for in the first place. However, the deadlines imposed on the operators by government must be met. This time there mustn’t be any wriggle room that allows them to get out of their obligations.
These legal obligations, that operators have to meet the conditions imposed by the telecoms regulator Ofcom, are fundamental and represent a huge victory for CLA lobbying. We now have an opportunity where Government policy can be rewarded; where rural business can benefit and exploit wider mobile technology and become more productive; where the public need can finally be met. It may have taken what seems an eternity but, if implemented properly, we may finally be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But let me issue the operators a word of caution. If the mobile industry thinks that it can hoodwink rural communities by subverting the conditions imposed by Ofcom, it needs to think again. The CLA will be holding all four mobile operators to account if we think not enough progress is being made. Remember that rural roaming is still available and we will demand strong government action to act in the interests of rural Britain.
The first stage is complete and it's a major success, but we know more needs to be done so that our goal of universal mobile coverage can and will be met on time.