cumbrian campaign for rural mobile service triumphs as ofcom auction begins

Following a campaign led by Rory, and with technology, pioneered by Cumbrian communities, OFCOM – the telecoms regulator – has now announced its multi-billion pound “spectrum auction”. The auction target – of covering 98 per cent of the British population, rather than the current “effective” 89 per cent – was agreed after a parliamentary motion introduced by Rory Stewart in 2011. The auction will see rural coverage of mobile telecoms boosted massively in remote areas – and bring the benefits of improved mobile coverage and mobile broadband to constituents in Penrith and the Border and to Cumbria.

Rory introduced a parliamentary motion on the target, in May 2011, and introduced and steered a full debate on the floor of the House of Commons urging OFCOM to increase coverage from their originally proposed 95%, to 98 per cent. At the time, the government consulation had concluded there was no reason to go above 95 per cent. Rory’s motion received more MPs’ signatures than any previous motion in living memory and was carried unanimously at the end of its 3-hour duration. Rory has since been instrumental in bringing a 4G mobile trial to Threlkeld to demonstrate the benefits of the new technology.

It will be the biggest auction of space on British airwaves, and is expected to achieve a one-off windfall of £3bn for the Treasury. Not only will Ofcom improve coverage for remote rural areas as a response to this important lobbying, it has also proposed that the network which takes on this obligation will likely have access to the £150m earmarked last year to ensure better rural super-fast broadband coverage, boosting rural broadband delivery already underway. The obligation would mean ensuring 4G coverage equal to the combined 2G voice coverage currently provided by all national networks, and extending the signal into the UK’s “not spot” areas where there is no mobile signal.

The announcement comes at a time when Rory is working hard to expand the mobile broadband network into the Northern Fells area. At the same time Caldbeck in his constituency is set to become the first ‘open Femto cell’ rural pilot in the UK. The MP will share his expertise at a PICTFOR (the Parliamentary Internet Communications and Technology Forum) panel discussion this week in the House of Commons, where he will be discussing the transition to superfast broadband and 4G/LTE services in the UK alongside representatives from major telecomms providers.

Rory today said: “Major and historic changes are taking place in the world of broadband provision, and here in Penrith and the Border we are at the very heart of these developments. Even before the OFCOM spectrum auction began we were trialling innovative 4G trials in Threlkeld, developing community broadband models that have been used by government to develop national policy, powering up Penrith as the first Openreach market town, and have signed the broundbreaking contract between BT and Cumbria County Council to drive fibre deep into our county to benefit generations to come. As we upgrade our rural communities and switch to superfast fibre and 4G technology, we mustn’t become complacent; the hard work is not over. Government needs to meet its target to deliver the best rural broadband to our communities by 2015, to encourage more local community broadband projects, and to assess the implications of increased mobile data on our mobile infrastructure. There is much to be done, but this is an incredibly promising start to 2013.”

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