Mobile companies 'abandon rural areas'

Mobile network operators are failing to submit planning applications that could help improve coverage in some of the worst served rural areas, say campaigners.

Figures obtained by the Country Land and Business Association, said operators were failing to submit applications to erect new mobile phone masts.

In Rutland – which has the worst 4G coverage of any local authority area in England or Wales – not one planning application for a new mast was made in the past three years.

Other rural local authority areas where no applications were made in either 205, 2016 and 2017 years include Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said the CLA.

The organisation, which represents 30,000 members, said it obtained the data through Freedom of Information requests to planning authorities across England and Wales.

CLA deputy president Mark Bridgeman said: “This new data shows what rural communities have suspected for a long time, that the mobile industry is willing to abandon rural areas to the digital wilderness.”

Still waiting

“Three years ago, we were told that coverage would be delivered in the countryside and yet rural communities are still waiting.”

Mr Bridgeman said the mobile industry had extracted “concession after concession” from ministers.

“They have got the new legal powers they wanted, on the basis that they are a utility service. Now they must be forced to deliver the universal service that a utility operator provides.”

The CLA is calling on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to confirm its view that Ofcom should prioritise working towards universal, quality mobile coverage for consumers.

Mr Bridgeman added: “The mobile operators have no market incentive to improve coverage in these rural areas.

“It is absolutely clear that the only way they will deliver the coverage the countryside needs is if they are forced to do so.

“However rather than pushing them to achieve universal coverage for consumers, Ofcom is setting soft targets for rural coverage.

Inadequate service

“As a result rural consumers face inadequate service and lack of network choice for years to come.”

The new FOI data shows that in England on average less than five planning applications per year were made for new masts in each rural planning authority area.

This is on a par with applications in England’s urban local authorities across this time period, where coverage is already far superior.

The average in urban areas is 4.3 masts per year compared to 4.54 in rural areas.

The FOI results also show that the planning approval rate in rural local authorities is 84.5%, in urban local authorities it is 86%. To read the data, click here


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