Time for Ofcom to stand up to the mobile phonies on rural coverage

03 May 2018

The CLA has called on Ofcom to present a stronger challenge to mobile network operators on improving 4g coverage in the countryside.

In its response to the Ofcom consultation on coverage obligations in the award of the 700 MHz spectrum band, the CLA has pointed to the reluctance of mobile operators to deliver coverage in rural areas on their own initiative and asked Ofcom to take a more robust stance to best serve the interests of consumers.

The organisation (which represents 30,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses in England and Wales) has called for Ofcom to raise the proposed coverage obligations for the 700 MHz spectrum sale award so they align with the Government ambition for 95% geographic coverage by 2022.

CLA Deputy President Mark Bridgeman has met with Ofcom to discuss these concerns this week. He said: “People living and working in the countryside are fed up with rubbish signal and empty promises from the mobile network providers. It limits rural businesses, hampers efforts to work more efficiently, presents a safety concern and keeps communities in a digital dark age.

“It is clear that mobile operators will only invest in rural coverage if they are forced to do so. Ofcom must take a stronger line. They can do this by requiring legally binding targets that will deliver on the Government’s stated ambition of 95% geographic coverage by the end of 2022, and robustly challenge the industry’s constant excuses for not investing in rural areas.

“It is also time for Ofcom to make operators truly accountable to consumers about their approach to coverage in rural areas. They can do this by requiring operators to publish details of their existing infrastructure network and roll out plans in rural areas. This is what is required of fixed line broadband providers. As well as delivering necessary accountability, this measure would lead to far more sharing of masts and significant cost savings for the industry.”   

The full CLA response to the 700 MHz spectrum sale consultation can be found at www.cla.org.uk/4gForAll

Ofcom’s Connected Nations report in December 2017 revealed that while people inside 90% of UK premises can now make telephone calls on all four mobile networks, this falls to 57% in rural areas. A CLA report in March 2018 based on FOI responses found that mobile network operators have not been putting in planning applications for new masts in some of the rural areas with the poorest mobile coverage. As an example in Rutland, which has the worst 4G coverage of any local authority area in England and Wales at 3.42% 4G coverage from all operators, not one application for a new mast was put forward in 2015, 2016 or 2017.


Notes to editors

  • Further information about the CLA’s report on planning applications for new masts can be found at www.cla.org.uk/4gForAll 
  • A Rural England report published on 12 March calculated that unlocking the digital potential of rural areas across the UK could add between £12 billion and £26 billion [GVA] annually to the UK economy.