A Yorkshire MP is leading calls for the Government to agree to a scheme where the major mobile operators could share phone masts to improve coverage in some of the country’s hardest-to-reach areas.
Seventy-seven MPs from across the party divide have signed a letter sent by Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake urging Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright to support a proposal by the mobile industry to create a ‘Shared Rural Network’.
The proposal by EE (BT), Vodafone, O2 and Three UK would allow operators to share masts and mast space more easily to install new radio kit which would improve rural coverage.
The operators say the scheme would cost the Government £620m and would be overseen by a new company which would be responsible for managing the build of new masts and supplying them with the necessary power and fibre optic technology.
But Mr Hollinrake argues that it would be cheaper than regulator Ofcom’s plan to auction off the 700MHz band, which was previously used for Digital Terrestrial TV services, for use by future Mobile technologies such as superfast 5G.
The letter, seen by The Yorkshire Post, says the initiative would significantly improve rural coverage and enhance economic, educational and leisure opportunities in rural areas where, in some cases, there is no coverage at all.
Mr Hollinrake said: “The lack of mobile coverage in some of the most rural parts of Thirsk and Malton will vastly increase operational coverage for many constituents in both their working and home lives.
“The current inadequate digital connectivity has had a huge impact on growth for the local, regional and national economy and needs to be put right as soon as possible.
“I welcome these new proposals because it will provide a much needed solution in a more efficient, more effective and a less environmentally impactful way than current proposals”.
The Government has said it wants mobile networks to deliver 95 per cent geographic coverage of the UK by 2022, ideally via 4G or faster network technology.
But according to Ofcom 4G geographic coverage from all operators is just 67 per cent of the UK and this reaches 78 per cent when including older 2G and 3G services.
Last month 40 MPs and peers called for targets to vastly improve mobile 4G coverage in countryside communities to be made legally-binding in order to end a “shocking rural-urban digital divide”.
But catering for remote rural areas is seen by the industry as very expensive. One idea to solve the problem, rural roaming, where a phone signal can pass from network to network, was reportedly rejected by operator EE.
MPs signing the letter to Jeremy Wright include Theresa May’s former de facto deputy Damian Green, fellow Tories Andrea Jenkyns, Nigel Adams and Julian Sturdy and Labour MPs Sarah Champion and Gill Furniss.
A DCMS spokesperson said: "We've made major changes to regulation and planning laws, making it cheaper and easier for industry to rollout or share masts. Improving mobile coverage in rural areas is a priority and we are considering all of the options available, including rural roaming, to facilitate this."
Broadband boost for South Yorkshire village
More than 2,500 people in a South Yorkshire village will get the fastest widely-available broadband speeds in the UK after Virgin Media introduced ultrafast broadband in the area.
The company says average top speeds of 516 megabits per second will now be available in Kiveton Park, an area where the average download speed is less than one tenth of that.
Kiveton Park residents will now get ‘fibre to the premises’ technology allowing them to download a standard HD movie file in less than a minute and a half. Last week, both Tory leadership contenders pledged to introduce ‘full fibre’ broadband across the country by the mid-2020s.