The call was made by the Country Land and Business Association its response to an Ofcom consultation on coverage obligations in the award of the 700 MHz spectrum band./
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 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.
Mobile operators appeared reluctant 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, said the CLA.
Ofcom should 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, it added.
CLA deputy president Mark Bridgeman 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.
Mr Bridgeman said it was clear that mobile operators would only invest in rural coverage if they were forced to do so.
He added:“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 was also time for Ofcom to make operators truly accountable to consumers about their approach to coverage in rural areas, said Mr Bridgeman.
Operators should be required 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 here.
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