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Norfolk - Are you there? The line has gone dead!

May 2, 2018 2:58 PM

Mob Phone 1

Experienced the loss of your phone coverage in rural Norfolk? Just in the middle of an important conversation or even worse not being able to connect to a call at all? Ever had problems trying to access the internet?

According to the government's own figures, three of the 10 worst local authority areas in England for indoor 4G coverage are in Norfolk.

Current Position

The CLA (Country Land & Business Association), which is a membership organisation for rural landowners and businesses, found that Breckland, South and North Norfolk were in the 10 worst areas:

Top 10 Best Local Authority Areas of Indoor 4G Coverage

(England)

Top 10 Best Local Authority Areas of Indoor 4G Coverage *Excluding London

Top 10 Worst Local Authority Areas of Indoor 4G Coverage

(England)

1.Westminster - 98.98%

1. Hull - 92.44%

1. Rutland - 3.42%

2. Hammersmith and Fulham - 98.06%

2. Reading - 87.75%

2. Ribble Valley - 6.37%

3. Islington - 98.06%

3. Newcastle - 86.99%

3. Maldon - 8.63%

4. Kensington and Chelsea - 97.82%

4. Blackburn - 85.49%

4. South Norfolk - 10.64%

5. Tower Hamlets - 97.76

5. Stevenage - 83.63%

5. Breckland - 11.22%

6. Newham - 96.22%

6. Leicester - 83.42%

6. Melton - 13.76%

7. City of London - 95.41%

7. Derby - 83.42%

7. Copeland - 14.13%

8. Southwark - 95.32%

8. Luton - 82.98%

8. North Norfolk - 14.18%

9. Hackney - 94.88%

9. Cambridge - 82.73%

9. North Dorset - 14.24%

10. Lambeth - 94.37%

10. Liverpool - 82.66%

10. Mid Devon - 14.25%

The CLA found that there is a clear gulf in the capabilities of coverage between cities and the countryside and no incentive for operators to improve coverage.

  • 82% of those in a rural area can't get a 4G mobile signal indoors compared to 36% in urban areas
  • 92% of the urban population is covered by 4G.
  • 70% of the geographical UK is covered for reliable voice calls and only 63% for data based services.

Why is the problem happening?

Even though many people treat mobile phone services as if they were a utility, operators are only required to meet weak universal service obligations.

It would not be acceptable for a rural village to have less access to electricity than people in cities.

As it stands, the Government only gets the opportunity to mandate coverage targets when it licenses off parts of the spectrum (the 'slices' of the airwaves that operators use for phone signal, which are auctioned every few years and earn the Treasury billions of pounds).

Currently coverage targets only exist for 2G services - which are so out of date that newer operators like Three don't even provide them!

Without a legal mandate, the operators have no incentive to improve coverage for rural areas, which is why they're left behind.

What's the impact?

It's not only the Facebook generation that is losing out from poor signal in rural areas: lonely and vulnerable people lose out too - as do businesses. Tourists from towns and cities expect the same level of coverage they enjoy at home while the growing use of innovative technology by farmers frequently relies on strong data mobile connections.

So far the mobile network operators have provided no evidence of how they intend to improve 4G coverage in rural areas and the CLA have identified some of the key issues as:

  1. Mobile phone operators must to be held to account over their failure to deliver rural connectivity.
  2. Operators are providing a substandard service to rural areas and, have no clear plans on how they will increase 4G coverage.
  3. Government must place legally enforceable 4G targets on the mobile network operators, in order to protect consumers.

What we will be doing

Norman Lamb winningNorman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, will be tabling an Early Day Motion on the issue and will be writing to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to demand improvement in 4G coverage for rural areas, particularly Norfolk.

Norman said: "Norfolk loses out more than anywhere in the country according to this analysis and we demand that this is addressed as a matter of urgency. I support the demands of the CLA and I am writing to the Secretary of State highlighting the poor situation in Norfolk. Poor coverage holds Norfolk back and has an impact on employment and wealth in the county, as well as the country as a whole."

Photo of Steffan AquaroneSteff Aquarone, Liberal Democrat Norfolk County Councillor for Melton Constable said "It's unsurprising but totally unacceptable that North Norfolk is the eighth worst area of the country for mobile phone signal. Good mobile coverage isn't just important for the Facebook generation, it's vital for vulnerable people, and essential for rural businesses too.

"Mobile phone providers have become like utility companies and there's no excuse for them not to give rural areas the same service. Action is needed now to improve coverage, and the government has got to make sure the next set of targets are set in law."

Steff has also been exploring long-term solutions to broadband and mobile phone coverage and believes that community schemes like BB4ER are the way to do this.

Better Broadband for East Ruston (BB4ER) is in talks with Vattenfall, developer of the Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farms, about improving broadband speeds. http://www.northnorfolknews.co.uk/news/vattenfall-in-talks-with-community-broadband-group-about-improving-speeds-in-norfolk-1-5481448

An example of how this could work in practise was shown on the BBC One Show about a similar scheme in Lancashire https://t.co/6JSR2oQbez