Farming and rural groups have united to set out four key tests for mobile phone operators in their plans to boost 4G in the countryside.
The #4GForAll campaign, backed by organisations such as the NFU, Countryside Alliance and CLA, have shared the demands with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The recently drafted proposals by the major mobile phone companies for a “single rural network” would mean operators sharing masts on a reciprocal basis and forming a new company to build joint masts in rural areas.
In return, operators are asking for rural coverage obligations associated with upcoming spectrum auctions to be ditched and a reduction in the annual licence fees paid by networks for the funding of new masts.
The industry’s plans have the potential to deliver coverage improvements. However, in their current format they are not legally binding and, if met, would mean 95% coverage by 2026 – some four years later than existing government manifesto commitments.
In response, the #4GForAll campaign sets out four tests that need to be met to ensure a better outcome for rural consumers and businesses.
These include legal obligations to deliver improved coverage; ensure coverage improvements are delivered as soon as possible; outline robust monitoring arrangements for Ofcom and require operators to publish a roll-out plan.
Which?, one of the groups to back the campaign, said it is 'shocking' that some people are still not able to carry out even the most basic tasks because of poor phone signal.
Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Advocacy, said: “While we welcome mobile operators looking to take a lead on this vital issue, these proposals must be legally binding to guarantee 4G is finally delivered in a fair and affordable way to those who need it the most.”
Tim Bonner, Countryside Alliance Chief Executive added: “For far too long rural communities have been treated as second class citizens when it comes to mobile and broadband connectivity and this has to stop if the countryside is to harness the social and economic opportunities they bring.
“We are encouraged that mobile operators are committed to finding a solution to poor connectivity, but these proposals just don’t go far enough, and connecting the countryside must be treated as a priority rather than an afterthought,” he said.