A group of cross-party MPs have urged digital secretary Matt Hancock to whack a legal obligation on the UK's four mobile operators to provide 4G coverage to 95 per cent of the UK's landmass by 2022.
Some 56 MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services signed the letter urging Hancock to improve the state of rural mobile connectivity.
On average, 90 per cent of UK premises can currently make calls on all four mobile networks, however, that falls to 57 per cent in rural areas, according to Ofcom's most recent Connected Nations report. The regulator had previously imposed a coverage target of 90 per cent on all mobile operators by 2017.
In May 2017, the Conservative manifesto pledged to extend mobile coverage to 95 per cent geographic coverage of the UK by 2022, but not much has been heard on the matter since.
Ofcom said it will include a new coverage target as a condition on the sale of its recent spectrum auction. Operators acquiring the licences carrying these obligations must provide good coverage across at least 92 per cent of the total UK landmass, it said.
However, MPs said they were concerned these conditions "fall significantly short" of the 95 per cent ambition.
Recent evidence shows that the market alone is not providing the rollout necessary to meet the needs of rural areas. This means that regulation has a key role to play. The main regulation required is a legally binding coverage obligation imposed on all four major operators.
We are concerned as of the end of 2017, there are no legally binding targets in place for the mobile operators to extend rollout. Every day this goes by presents the risk of further delay and obfuscation on the part of industry
The letter said Ofcom's statutory obligations must clarify that its main purpose is to work towards the delivery of universal mobile coverage. The group also said it wants a significant change in the rules on transparency to prevent mobile operators from hiding behind "commercial confidentiality" and refusing to tell communities where they plan to roll out coverage.
Mark Bridgeman, deputy president of the Country Land and Business Association, said:
"It is clear that the mobile operators will only make the investment needed to connect the countryside if they are forced to do so." ®