A phone mast on a farm© FLPA/REX/Shutterstock

Farmers who refuse to site mobile phone masts on their land should have subsidies withheld, according to a Welsh National Assembly committee.

In its Digital Infrastructure in Wales report the assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee called on the government to do more to tackle the remaining areas without Welsh broadband and mobile phone signals.

See also: Know where your land documents are

Broadband is available on 96% of premises in Wales but the last 4% is proving difficult to service, the report said.

It added mobile phone coverage in Wales lagged well behind other parts of the UK with less than half of premises having access to a 4G signal.

Mobile phone coverage (% of premises covered)

 

Scotland

England

Wales

NI

UK

2G

92.0

94.6

83.2

87.4

93.6

3G

85.6

94.4

74.9

88.6

92.5

4G

58.4

74.7

43.9

59.9

71.3

Source: Ofcom Communications Market Report 2016: Wales

The major difficulty is the higher proportion of hills and valleys which block signals to some areas, creating the need for more mobile phone sites, said the report (PDF). 

Among the recommendations, the committee urged the government to use new ways to ensure the mast network was improved.

Essential service

A statement by the committee said: “The Welsh government should consider ensuring future public subsidies to landowners such as farmers are conditional on them allowing mobile phone masts on their land.”

Welsh Conservative AM and committee chairman Russell George said:  “Connectivity is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ in our daily lives. For many people and businesses we spoke to during our inquiry, it’s now considered an essential service – like electricity. 

 “Wales’s landscape and population spread poses challenges in a world where market forces determine broadband and mobile phone coverage.” 

Mr George added: “While the Welsh government’s superfast Cymru broadband scheme, delivered with BT – has connected high numbers of people, there remain pockets it has not be able to reach, and this is echoed with mobile phone coverage.   

“Our recommendations will help Wales to develop a digital infrastructure which is as fast and as reliable as other parts of the UK, and is fit for the future.”  

Rejection

While welcoming the report’s recognition of rural business needs, a spokesman for CLA Wales rejected the call for the condition on payment of subsidies.

“Operators are responsible for developing their infrastructure strategy including where masts and other facilities are located,” the spokesman said.

“Their strategy will logically be driven by their own commercial priorities and not the practicalities of running a small farm in remote areas.

“One farm may find it is earmarked to have a mast and face greater economic difficulty the one next door may not,” he added.

Other recommendations from the report include:   

  • The Welsh government should establish a repayable grant or equity scheme to allow small operators to fill broadband gaps  
  • The 4% of premises without broadband connectivity should be engaged in the process to find ways forward
  • The Welsh government should reform the planning regime to allow the installation of telecoms masts that cover a wider geographical range