Mobile operators to be stung for 10% of annual turnover if coverage falls short, digital sec warns

Meanwhile, Nicky Morgan hints at imminent decision on Huawei in UK's 5G infrastructure

UK mobile operators will be fined up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover if they fail to meet the coverage obligations of the £1bn Shared Rural Network plans, digital secretary Nicky Morgan has claimed.

Last week the country's major players pledged to stump up half the cash for a £1bn "Shared Rural Network" (SRN) to tackle 4G notspots.

All four – EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone – signed proposals to bring rural coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by 2025 via £530m in industry funding, with the government committing a further £500m of your money.

Each will commit to reach 92 per cent coverage by 2025, collectively delivering coverage to 95 per cent of the UK.

In a statement to the House of Commons on the SRN proposal yesterday, Morgan said: "If they cannot demonstrate that all reasonable efforts have been made to comply with the obligations, there are penalties for the operators, with a maximum fine of up to 10 per cent of annual turnover."

Shadow minister Liam Byrne MP said while he welcomed the enthusiasm for progress, the motion did not go far enough. He criticised the ongoing delays to the scheme and stated that an increase of 4 per cent in coverage was not comprehensive enough.

He said: "We rank today not as the first, second or third best network in the world, we rank 26th. 80 per cent of our constituencies don't enjoy 4G coverage from all big four operators."

Conservative MP and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat pressed Morgan on the government's 5G plans. Whitehall has so far fudged its decision on whether to let controversial Chinese kit maker Huawei play a part in the country's 5G infrastructure.

He said: "I believe that there will be an announcement tomorrow about China's possible involvement in our network. Does she agree that that poses a major danger to the Five Eyes community and that US sanctions against Huawei would leave us looking like we had just signed a long-term lease for business space with WeWork?"

Morgan responded: "I am not able to say much about this for very obvious reasons. A decision will be announced in due course. I just want to say two things to the House. The first is that high-risk vendors have never been and never will be in our most sensitive networks. The second is that the security and resilience of the UK's telecoms network is of paramount importance. We will bear both of those things in our minds when making any decisions."

Digi sec Morgan was also quizzed on the progress of the delayed Emergency Services Network, which will also be made available to all four operators and is expected to contribute to the coverage target by delivering up to an additional 2 per cent of geographic coverage per provider.

Since taking over the department, Morgan said she has been working "very closely with the Home Office and got the agreement about the emergency services network, but I accept his challenge, and the conversations with the Home Office will of course continue."

Labour MP Chris Bryant pointed out that mobile phone companies "will quite often say that a person in a village such as Porth has 100 per cent coverage when, actually, nobody in Hannah Street can get any signal whatsoever."

He added: "Recently, when there was arson attack on the mast, which covered several different companies, EE did not even bother to tell all its local customers that coverage would be out for four weeks and it refused to give compensation. The mobile phone companies simply must do better."

Morgan agreed. "There is nothing more frustrating for people than being told that they have coverage – or it even looking like they have coverage on their phone – but they still cannot make a call. I am concerned to hear how EE handled that particular attack." ®

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