Rural phone coverage ‘worse than broadband’

Rural mobile phone coverage is so bad that in many areas it is often worse than broadband.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) issued the warning after the government’s Digital Economy Bill, received its first reading in the House of Commons.

See also: Ofcom decision ‘must speed up broadband

The Bill includes the introduction of a universal service obligation giving everyone the right to demand broadband speeds of at least 10mpbs by 2020.

CLA East regional director Ben Underwood said the CLA had campaigned “for many years” to secure a universal service obligation – but there was still much to be done.


“It is time to end the discrimination felt in rural areas and we will continue working to ensure this law delivers for rural communities,” he said.

“However, progress on improving mobile coverage in rural areas has been slow going.”

Government and the telecoms industry made a deal 18 months ago based on legally guaranteeing mobile coverage for 90% of the geographic landmass of the UK by end of 2017.

But Mr Underwood said: “Ever since, the industry has lined up excuse after excuse and there is scant evidence of progress towards this commitment.”

The most recent figures showed mobile coverage for only 55% of the country, said Mr Underwood.

The government had yielded too much to telecom companies by removing the rights of individuals to negotiate open-market commercial agreements for mobile masts on their land.

This has been valued by the government’s own economic analysis as a £1bn benefit for the mobile operators, said Mr Underwood. “The pendulum has swung too far in favour of the mobile companies.

Lobbying hard

“We will be lobbying hard, as the Bill progresses, for ministers to reconsider their decision and give back to landowners their right to negotiate a fair value for access to their own property.

The CLA would also be working to ensure the delivery of much-needed improvements to mobile coverage that were desperately needed by rural businesses and communities.

“Rural communities have had to put up with a second-class service for far too long – there are surely now no excuses left for the mobile operators to use,” said Mr Underwood.

He added the CLA was continuing to lobby ministers to include legislation to ensure mobile phone companies honour existing land access contracts.

Companies must not be allowed to terminate existing contracts in order to take advantage of more favourable terms under the new code, he said.

The government said measures within the Digital Economy Bill will ensure Britain remains at the forefront of the global 21st century economy.

It said the Bill will “empower consumers and provide better connectivity so that everyone has access to broadband wherever they live”.


But the NFU has also voiced concerns about the government’s ability to deliver on its promises.

Only 4% farmers have access to superfast broadband, according to the NFU’s Farm Broadband & Mobile Networks report published earlier this year.

The roll-out of complete mobile networks and affordable, reliable superfast access in rural areas must be prioritised by government, said the document.

Both were essential to run safe and efficient farms, to comply with regulation, to promote farm diversification and for rural communities to enjoy family life.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “Poor access to broadband and mobile networks is one such significant barrier and the current situation is neither sustainable nor acceptable.”

He added: “The government is asking farmers to run their businesses in conditions that put them at an immediate disadvantage.”

See more