Graham Stuart, Member of Parliament for Beverley and Holderness, raised the issue of poor mobile phone signal in a Westminster Hall debate yesterday in Parliament. He called on the Government to reduce the regulatory burdens on businesses so that they could deliver better signal at the lowest possible cost to the consumer. He commented that too often sparsely-populated rural areas get left behind as industry invests in the country’s digital infrastructure.
In particular, he called on the Government to look at increasing the maximum permitted development height for mobile phone masts. He also called for a reform of the Electronic Communication Code, originally produced in 1984, which sees mobile operators charged dramatically high rents for their masts by landowners.
Commenting on the Government’s agreement with the mobile operators to achieve 90% voice call coverage by 2017, Graham said: “We want it to go ahead as quickly as possible, so that people who are trying to live their normal life, call their girlfriend, do a business deal, run a small business or fulfil the normal obligations of life are able to do so as easily in rural areas as elsewhere in the country.
“Every imposition on those companies will feed through into our constituents’ bills. We want to deliver a fantastic and effective mobile phone system as cheaply as possible and without imposing unnecessary burdens and regulations on those businesses, which is why the electronic communications code needs to be reformed.
“Mobile telephony is a basic utility. We have had frameworks in the past to ensure we keep the cost of delivering that basic utility as low as possible to encourage operators to deliver the service as widely and effectively as possible. That is true for other utilities, and it should be true for mobile telephony.”
In his response, Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of State for Culture, Media and Sport, pointed to the Government’s landmark deal with operators to tackle ‘notspots’. He said: “About 6% of the East Riding of Yorkshire and 1.2% of Lincolnshire have been affected by notspots. As a result of the agreement, we will eliminate notspots altogether. Just 0.2% of north Lincolnshire and less than 1% of the East Riding of Yorkshire will have partial notspots, which is when just one mobile operator provides coverage. Therefore, 99% of east Yorkshire and almost 100% of north Lincolnshire should have coverage from all four operators. That will make an important difference.”
Responding to Graham’s call for higher mobile masts, the Minister said: “We want to increase the height of masts, to increase the height at which cells can go and to increase the time in which operators are allowed to take emergency measures to repair masts, because my honourable Friend [Graham Stuart] is quite right to point out that the size and length of masts is important.”