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GORDON HENDERSON MP

FOR SITTINGBOURNE & SHEPPEY

MP supports new Mobile Coverage report

2nd November 2016
MP supports new Mobile Coverage report

Gordon Henderson MP, Member of Parliament for Sittingbourne and Sheppey supports the conclusions of a major new report ‘Mobile coverage: A good call for Britain?’ released by the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG). (http://britishinfrastructuregroup.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Mobile-Coverage.pdf)

The report takes a comprehensive look at Government and regulator policies to improve mobile coverage across the country and eliminate mobile ‘not spots’. It queries whether a £5 billion investment agreement between the Government and the mobiles sector will reach its coverage targets by next year, and raises concern over systems that allow visitors to the UK to benefit from roaming services locating the best possible signal while Britons cannot use roaming while in the UK.

Gordon Henderson MP said, “According to data cited in the [BIG] report, our constituency of Sittingbourne and Sheppey is in a region where mobile users don’t receive 4G coverage 45.7 percent of the time. This is unacceptable in the 21st Century.

“Small businesses and residents increasingly rely on good internet connectivity via their mobile devices, and it cannot be right that so many live in so called “not spot” areas and cannot get a reliable service. I know this is a problem in many local areas, including my own village of Eastchurch.

“It is also unacceptable that overseas visitors can expect better mobile coverage than Britons stuck with a single provider, and I urge the Government to bring national mobile coverage policy into the twenty-first century.”

BIG research found that despite a £5 billion investment agreement between the Government and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), there are still at least 525 areas in the UK in need of mobile phone masts to provide basic coverage.

This BIG study of British mobile coverage policy has uncovered the following findings:

• Stuck with a single provider: Overseas visitors to the UK receive better and broader mobile coverage, because their SIM cards allow for national roaming. In contrast, there is no such agreement amongst our mobile phone providers for Britons.

• A bad call: Back in 2014, the Government agreed to give the four large Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) another chance to fix mobile ‘not spots’. The MNOs pumped £5 billion into improving mobile coverage across the UK by December 2017, in return for the Government not pursuing a system of national roaming. BIG found little evidence to suggest that the mobile sector will meet the targets of this agreement. The forthcoming Digital Economy Bill proposes that Ofcom should have the ability to fine mobile operators that do not meet these mobile coverage targets. BIG urges urgent passage of this Bill before the end of next year to ensure that Ofcom can make the mobiles sector accountable.

• No more not spots: British mobile coverage has not improved significantly since 2014. The failed Mobile Infrastructure Project found 600 areas in the UK without mobile coverage, and in need of masts. By the end of the financial year 2015-16, masts had been built in just 75 of these locations, leaving 525 locations in the UK where mobile coverage remains non-existent. A key target of the £5 billion mobile phone sector agreement, providing mobile voice coverage to 90% of the UK geographic area, is therefore almost certainly going to be missed.

• Mobile roaming: BIG argues that it is time to sort out the ‘not spot’ problem once and for all. This report assesses the benefits and limitations to national roaming, and concludes that a small-scale system of mobile roaming should be targeted in areas severely affected by partial ‘not spots’. This is known as ‘macro not spot’ roaming.

• Protecting consumers: Consumers are at risk from being hit with large exit fees if they decide to terminate their contract, even if it is due to poor quality mobile service. BIG argues that Ofcom should establish a Minimum Service Obligation to define consumer rights. If an MNO fails to deliver a high standard of service, consumers should be able to terminate their contract free of charge. These reforms should now be included in the Digital Economy Bill.

• Reform the Electronic Communications Code (ECC): The ECC contributes to determining the rental feeds that MNOs pay to land owners, but it is 30 years out-of-date. Reforms to the ECC, through specific changes to the valuation system, could reduce mobile operator costs and save the sector up to £1.02 billion over the next 20 years.

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