Rural business leaders are calling for urgent discussions on measures to address the continued neglect of rural areas by mobile network operators as new figures reveal a persisting digital divide in the UK.
The regulator Ofcom has issued a stark warning that unless radical new plans are developed people living and working across the UK’s countryside will continue to struggle to receive a good service, which it deems unacceptable.
Figures show that coverage makes it possible to make and receive phone calls across only 52% of UK landmass and that the discrimination felt by rural areas is acute.
The evidence also shows how mobile areas are focusing their investments on rolling out infrastructure in rural areas. Roll out of 4G services mean that coverage is available in 89% of locations within urban areas, more than double the coverage figures for rural areas (37%).
CLA Director of Policy and Advice Christopher Price said: “It is shocking that Ofcom has no confidence that the operators have a plan to deliver the coverage rural areas need. This comes despite legally binding commitments made by the mobile companies that coverage would be delivered by the end of next year. Today’s report casts this prospect in to serious doubt.
“We are seeking urgent meetings to discuss what can be done to force the industry to deliver more than just promises but actually roll out the infrastructure required to connect our countryside.
“Our first demand will be for concrete reassurances that Ministers will use the auction of new mobile spectrum licences to impose stringent conditions which require the operators to deliver the extended coverage they have failed to do to date.”
The UK Government is expected to commence the tender process for acquisition of licence rights for new spectrum capacity next year.