Ofcom urged to extend mobile broadband coverage

Millions of people could be left “isolated and undermined” unless new faster mobile broadband services are extended to 98% of the UK, say MPs.

Parliament gave rural broadband campaigners a boost yesterday, calling on telecoms regulator Ofcom to expand superfast mobile internet coverage to 98%.

Ofcom plans to sell off the 800MHz spectrum, currently used for terrestrial and some digital channels, to mobile broadband providers. Though at present it only requires 95% coverage from suppliers.

Extending this to 98% would allow millions more rural users to access faster mobile internet services.

Opening the debate in the House of Commons yesterday, Rory Stewart, Conservative MP for Cumbria, said: "This is the last chance we have for a generation to provide good mobile broadband coverage for six million people who will not otherwise get it."

The Ofcom consultation on the sale of the spectrum will close at the end of the month - detailing any coverage obligations for mobile broadband providers buying up the 800MHz spectrum.

"This is a spectrum on which we all depend for our smartphones, our iPads, our iPhones. This is the spectrum which is ideal for rural areas," he added.

Stewart also voiced concerns that Ofcom had "no intention" of increasing 4G coverage because it was "worried about losing some money". However, Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said that under EU law, the spectrum auction should not be a money-making exercise.

The motion received cross-party support.

An Ofcom spokesperson responded: "We welcome the debate on broadband access. We are currently consulting on the design of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz auction and are listening to views of all interested parties.

"Our objective is to encourage investment, promote competition and deliver a wide range of services for consumers."

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