Consumer and rural groups unite to set out four key tests for mobile operator plans to boost rural 4G in a letter to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Signed by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) which runs the #4GForAll campaign, Countryside Alliance, National Farmers Union (NFU), Rural Services Network and Which?, the letter to DCMS shares the four tests for ensuring mobile operator-led proposals guarantee the best outcomes for rural consumers.

The recently drafted proposals by the major mobile phone companies for a “single rural network” would mean mobile operators sharing masts on a reciprocal basis and forming a new company to build joint masts in rural areas. In return, operators are asking for rural coverage obligations associated with upcoming spectrum auctions to be ditched and a reduction in the annual licence fees paid by networks for the funding of new masts.

The industry’s plans have the potential to deliver coverage improvements. However, in their current format they are not legally binding and, if met, would mean 95% coverage by 2026 – some four years later than existing government manifesto commitments.

In response, the letter sets out four key tests that need to be met to ensure a better outcome for rural consumers and businesses. The proposals should:

1. Include legal obligations to deliver improved coverage.

2. Ensure coverage improvements are delivered as soon as possible.

3. Outline robust monitoring arrangements for Ofcom.

4. Require operators to publish a roll-out plan, as is the case with broadband today.

Stuart Roberts, NFU Vice President said: “It’s totally unacceptable that our farmers and growers are being denied a reliable and functioning digital mobile service. Patchy digital coverage remains a major barrier in improving on farm productivity. It’s imperative that Government ensures rural businesses are able to enjoy the same advances in mobile digital connectivity as urban businesses so all businesses can harness the opportunity of connectivity to become more productive, competitive and innovative as well as being able to compete on a level playing field with our international neighbours on the world stage.”

Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Advocacy, said: “It is shocking that year after year some people are still not able to carry out even the most basic tasks because of poor phone signal where they live. While we welcome mobile operators looking to take a lead on this vital issue, these proposals must be legally binding to guarantee 4G is finally delivered in a fair and affordable way to those who need it the most.”