The CLA said Ofcom was setting ‘soft targets’ for rural coverage rather than pushing operators to achieve universal connectivity.
Mobile operators have been accused of abandoning the countryside following failure to act on demand for universal network coverage.
The CLA blamed Ofcom for what it said was ‘still a shocking rural-urban divide’ after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to planning authorities across England and Wales revealed mobile operators had failed to apply for even one planning application for a new mobile phone mast in four local authority areas between 2015 and 2017.
The Forest of Dean, Selby and Tunbridge Wells were among the areas worst affected but Rutland topped the list for the worst 4G coverage in England, achieving just 3.42 per cent 4G indoor coverage from all operators.
CLA deputy president Mark Bridgeman slammed the service for accruing an equal average number of planning applications in rural and urban local authorities despite a ‘far superior’ level of mobile coverage in urban areas.
He said: “This new data shows what rural communities have suspected for a long time, that the mobile industry is willing to abandon rural areas to the digital wilderness.
“The mobile operators have no market incentive to improve coverage in these rural areas.
“It is absolutely clear that the only way they will deliver the coverage the countryside needs is if they are forced to do so.”
Mr Bridgeman said the CLA was calling on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to review Ofcom’s statutory remit after its Connected Nations report in December 2017 suggested only 57 per cent of UK premises in rural areas could make telephone calls on Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three.
The results showed on average less than five planning applications were made each year for new masts in each rural planning authority area from the beginning of 2015 to the end of 2017.
“Rather than pushing them to achieve universal coverage for consumers, Ofcom is setting soft targets for rural coverage,” Mr Bridgeman added.
“As a result rural consumers face inadequate service and lack of network choice for years to come.”