David Cameron has hinted a law change will be introduced in the budget next week to make it easier to erect mobile phone masts in “not spot” areas.
Cameron was responding to a Parliamentary question yesterday asked by Conservative MP Andrew Morrison, asking what will be done ahead of next week's budget to address the UK's relatively poor superfast broadband offerings and mobile hotspots.
He said: "We need to make sure we change the law in all the ways necessary to make sure the way leaves are granted, the masts are built, we increase coverage and we ensure everyone is connected to the information superhighway."
Cameron suggested that MPs had created a rod for their own backs by campaigning against masts more than a decade ago.
"I think this is something for members right across the House,”said the prime minister. “Ten years ago we were all rather guilty of leading campaigns against masts and the rest of it. Our constituents now want coverage for the internet, they want coverage for mobile phones."
However, last month Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey admitted the government's Mobile Infrastructure Programme to invest £150m in 600 “not spot areas” has been a flop. The scheme was opened in 2011, but didn't get off the ground until May 2013, after DCMS partnered with Arqiva and four mobile network operators.
By the time it closes this month a meagre 60 masts are expected to be erected, one-tenth of the original target.
Vaizey said: "I must admit that I am guilty as charged. I do not think the programme has been a success, and I do not think that ministers often say that about their programmes."
A Freedom of Information response about the scheme sent to The Register in September showed that the scheme's failured have been blamed on problems with site providers' willingness to allow a mast to be erected, the local planning application framework, and the availability of electrical power.
The department has since signed a "legally binding" deal with the four mobile network operators to guarantee mobile coverage over 90 per cent of the UK’s landmass by 2017. This is expected to reduce mobile not-spots by two-thirds, it said.
Vaizey has also said the introduction of taller masts, which will transmit signals further, and the Emergency Services Network deal, which is to roll-out 4G masts for blue light services across the country, will also help address the issue. ®