The Government Gigabit voucher scheme offers help for the 5 per cent of homes and businesses unconnected by the current roll-out process. A pledge has been made for full-fibre broadband connection for every home by 2033 as well as the adoption of a universal service obligation of at least 10Mbps in 2020. While broadband appears to be progressing, more needs to be done to improve mobile phone connectivity for Welsh businesses and the rural community, says CLA Cymru Director, Rebecca Williams.
“Last autumn the House of Commons All Party Parliamentary Group for Rural Business, which includes Welsh MPs, published a report following its inquiry into 4G in rural areas,” Rebecca Williams explains “Three Welsh local authority areas featured in the UK’s top-ten worst for 4G: Powys, Ceredigion and Gwynedd – making a very large poor-service footprint.”
“Since 2002 the CLA has been campaigning for a universal pledge on digital connectivity and we’re delighted to finally see this on broadband. While we need to wait to see how this is met, great strides have been taken towards unlocking the potential of the rural economy.”
“But more needs to be done to ensure mobile phone connectivity keeps pace. Part of the CLA’s campaign #4GForAll, we have responded to the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) consultation highlighting the disparity in consensus between broadband and the more divided approach with mobile connectivity. Unhelpfully here there are two conflicting targets. DCMS is working towards 95% geographic mobile coverage by 2022 while Ofcom has proposed 90% by 2024.”
“In addition, Ofcom has also recently rejected the CLA-backed DCMS proposal to introduce rural roaming – where operators share bandwidth with users of all networks – as a means of increasing rural 4G coverage. The CLA believes that mobile operators will only invest in rural areas if they are forced to do so, and that rural roaming is the common sense solution to increasing coverage across the UK.”
“In theory the gap in mobile standards between parts of Wales and parts of England ought to narrow thanks to February’s change in Welsh Permitted Development Rights which enables larger-scale mobile phone masts to be erected giving better mobile coverage. But this will only happen at the rate that the mobile operators deploy them. A CLA report based on FOI data last year, showed that in both England and Wales, mobile phone operators are failing to submit planning applications for masts.”
Rebecca Williams concludes: “We need to learn from the successes with broadband where government and stakeholder consensus, as well as leadership by the regulator, have achieved real wins for those who live or work in the countryside. There is no reason why a similar approach should not be applied to rural 4G, starting with forcing mobile operators to adopt rural roaming.
“The CLA is ready to work with operators and Ofcom to work on the tangible steps which need to be taken to ending the urban-rural digital divide.”