A cross-party group of MPs is recommending the introduction of a single rural mobile phone network to help speed up delivery of 4G to the countryside.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Business has published a report following its inquiry into 4G in rural areas.
The report calls for the ability for mobile phone users to roam between network providers in rural areas, to help allow more people to make good quality calls and access data in the countryside.
Julian Sturdy, Chair of the APPG for Rural Business, said: “4G has the potential to revolutionise country life and the rural economy, but we know many people living and working in rural areas feel abandoned to poor coverage in favour of greater profits for the operators in urban areas.
“Our report identifies specific solutions that will have a real impact. Introducing rural roaming would give a fast and noticeable difference to 4G coverage in the countryside while minimising the need for operators’ investment by using existing infrastructure.”
The CLA (Country Land and Business Association) represents 30,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses across England and Wales.
CLA Deputy President Mark Bridgeman said: “For too long people living and working in the countryside have been disadvantaged by poor mobile coverage, putting up with detrimental impacts to their businesses as well as home life.
“The recommendations in the APPG’s report sets out a positive and sensible approach towards ending digital discrimination against people who live and work in the countryside. I urge the network operators to work with Government and Ofcom now to identify how rural roaming could work best and be delivered without delay.”
The APPG for Rural Business’ report makes five recommendations that aim to help overcome barriers that the MP group discussed with network operators and rural business leaders during the APPG’s inquiry into the issue in June 2018:
§ Introduce rural roaming: a single rural network in areas which are hard to reach.
§ Increasing transparency and accountability: compulsory publication of operators’ reports on, and plans for, rural 4G roll-out based on actual coverage.
§ Prioritising coverage over licence fees: Ofcom to focus the 700Mhz spectrum auction on meeting coverage targets rather than maximising licence fees paid by operators.
§ Mobile connectivity at the heart of planning: future mobile infrastructure to be included within Local Plans and a core component for large infrastructure projects.
§ An integrated approach: A joint strategy for achieving 95% geographic mobile coverage by 2022 from Government, Ofcom and mobile operators by April 2019.
Read the APPG for Rural Business report ‘4G in rural areas: how to close the digital divide’