‘End digital divide on 4G mobile coverage’, say CLA

The Country Land and Business Association has urged industry officials and Government to work together to address their conflicting goals and end the rural-urban digital divide on 4G mobile coverage.

The CLA, which represents more than 30,000 rural landowners and businesses and leads the #4GForAll campaign, has responded to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) consultation on ‘strategic priorities for telecoms’.

The consultation response highlights the divided approach to mobile coverage, where there are currently two conflicting targets. DCMS is working towards 95% geographic mobile coverage by 2022 while Ofcom has proposed 90% by 2024.

The CLA consultation response to DCMS states: “We believe it to be unfortunate that the Government and the telecoms regulator are unable to agree to a common target for mobile connectivity. We believe that Government must clarify this situation as a matter of urgency.”

Targets for broadband are clearer by comparison, with a pledge for a full-fibre broadband connection to every home by 2033, as well as the adoption of a universal service obligation of at least 10Mbps in 2020.

CLA Deputy President Mark Bridgeman said: “Since 2002 the CLA has been campaigning for a universal pledge on digital connectivity and we’re delighted to finally see this on broadband. While we need to wait to see how this is met, great strides have been taken towards unlocking the potential of the rural economy.”

But the approach on mobile coverage is more disjointed. Ofcom has also recently rejected the CLA-backed DCMS proposal to introduce rural roaming – where operators share bandwidth with users of all networks – as a means of increasing rural 4G coverage. The CLA believes that mobile operators will only invest in rural areas if they are forced to do so, and that rural roaming is the common sense solution to increasing coverage across the UK.

Mr Bridgeman added: “We need to learn the lessons from broadband where Government and stakeholder consensus, as well as leadership by the regulator, achieved wins for those who live or work in the countryside.

“There is no reason why a similar approach should not be applied to rural 4G, starting with forcing mobile operators to adopt rural roaming. The CLA is ready to work with operators and Ofcom to work on the tangible steps which need to be taken to ending the urban-rural digital divide.”