Rural businesses held back by poor mobile phone coverage say they are being kept in a “digital dark age” because of the reluctance of network operators to invest in the countryside.
The CLA which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses in England and Wales told an influential group of MPs that Ofcom must force mobile operators to make 4G connectivity available for all businesses and communities.
An inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Business is examining how businesses in the countryside are impacted by inadequate mobile phone signals. After hearing evidence from rural business leaders about the barriers to improving coverage and from the four main network operators, the group is set to produce a report with recommendations on how mobile connectivity can be improved across rural areas.
CLA Deputy President Mark Bridgeman said: “4G is vital to running a business. It is needed for marketing, communication and driving forward innovative technology. But rural businesses are being kept in a digital dark age because of mobile not-spots across the countryside.
“Many rural communities have been abandoned by the mobile network operators who will only make investments in the countryside when forced to do so. Ofcom must demand more and challenge this reluctance to invest in rural areas.”
The CLA started a ‘#4GForAll’ campaign to highlight the lack of rural mobile coverage and in April more than 50 MPs called on Ofcom to raise the proposed coverage obligations for the 700 MHz spectrum sale so they align with the Government ambition for 95% geographic coverage by 2022.
Bridgeman said: “We want 4G for all so that rural businesses and communities have the same advantages as their urban counterparts. With the challenges of Brexit, rural businesses will increasingly depend on good connectivity to become more productive and efficient.
“To ensure the countryside is better connected, we need to see regulation introduced which imposes a more ambitious legally binding coverage obligation on all four major operators, plus action from Ofcom to force the mobile operators into providing much greater transparency of coverage performance and plans for rural areas.”