Rural areas are set to benefit from a £1 billion deal to help tackle poor mobile phone coverage within the next five years, which will see major phone operators share the costs of new masts.
Announced today (March 9), the deal forms part of a Government supported but industry-led Shared Rural Network (SRN) agreement, which will aim to extend geographic 4G mobile coverage to 95 per cent of the UK.
The deal follows moves by Government to improve digital infrastructure for rural communities and will provide extra coverage to 280,000 premises and 16,000km of roads.
Recognising the impact poor connectivity has on the rural community, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “For too many people in the countryside a bad phone signal is a daily frustration.
“This [£1 billion deal signed with the industry] is an important milestone to level up the country, improve people’s lives and increase prosperity across the UK.”
Cumbrian sheep farmer Sarah Hayton echoed this and reinforced there was a ’definite need’ for investment, as unreliable phone signal meant farmers were often unable to contact anyone in the event of an emergency.
The Government has also separately committed £5 billion to help ‘gigabit capable broadband’ reach every home by 2025.
Industry efforts to tackle the issue have highlighted the problems inadequate phone signal has had on the operation of ‘modern-day farming businesses’.
NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts therefore claimed the deal was a welcome announcement.
He said: “The NFU’s annual broadband and digital member survey has consistently demonstrated just how dire the current services are for many farming businesses.
“With the industry facing so much uncertainty, it is clear that farmers need as many tools as possible to maintain business resilience and having access to digital connectivity is paramount if they are to compete with our international neighbours in the global market.”
CLA president Mark Bridgeman echoed this and said the agreement would provide a ‘much-needed boost’ to rural productivity, which he stressed was below 16 percent the national average.
He added: “This announcement could mark the beginning of an exciting journey for the rural economy, which is why the UK Government should work closely with operators to make sure they deliver on their promises.”
Mr Bridgeman stressed for the SRN to work, operators needed to meet their legal obligations within the agreement, as well as ensuring ‘transparency’ and communication with rural communities.
The deal also coincides with wider concerns raised over a drastic reduction in compensation paid out to farmers by telecom operators using land to implement phone masts as part of the Government’s 5G network rollout.
He warned: “If these obligations are not met, then UK Government must make good its promise and introduce rural roaming.
“Although the use of 4G has already added £75 billion to the UK economy, only 67 per cent of rural areas have access to good 4G.”