mobile broadband campaign receives government backing

Broadband campaigners have hailed the Chancellor George Osborne’s conference speech pledge to extend mobile coverage for six million more people in rural areas and thanked Rory, for drawing attention to the issue with his unrelenting campaign.

Rory has played a critical role in alerting Ministers to the problem of inadequate or non-existent mobile coverage. His persistence in highlighting the issue, which culminated in a debate in the House of Commons in May, has drawn support from people up and down the country, with more than one hundred and twenty MPs supporting his motion – which attracted more signatures than any other motion debated on the floor of the House of Commons in living memory. The vote was carried.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, said: ‘I was particularly impressed by Rory’s approach and advocacy of broadband for Cumbria. He and the Cumbrian communities should be very proud of what they have achieved.”

Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Broadband also added his praise for Rory’s efforts, joking that Rory’s “relentless focus on mobile broadband is also severely disrupting my life.”

Since then, Rory has been working closely with the regulator, OFCOM, and mobile phone companies to ensure that universal mobile coverage can become a reality. The Chancellor used his conference speech to promise £150m of government money to get mobile coverage to 99% of the UK. The money will be used to pay for new masts, with procurement expected to begin next year. He also promised that councils and local communities would have a role to play in ensuring that new masts were sensitively located and designed to blend into their surroundings. He is expected to flesh out plans in the coming weeks.

The Chancellor said: “In consultation with local communities we will install new mobile phone masts, which will improve coverage for 6 million people. This will improve connectivity and productivity across the country.”

Rory said: “The Chancellor’s announcement is a brilliant start, and a triumph for our many campaigners. I want to pay tribute to the hard work of so many backbench MPs, who have joined me in lobbying Ministers for just such a measure on behalf of their rural constituents for so long. Improving mobile coverage and broadband is the single most effective thing this government can do encourage economic growth in rural areas. It will mean a step change in rural productivity. More resources will almost certainly be needed to ensure that the whole UK gets decent mobile broadband coverage, so my campaign will not stop. The mobile phone companies have a big job ahead of them and I look forward to hearing what coverage targets Ofcom sets for 800mhz licences.”

Local Glenridding resident and mobile phone coverage campaigner Veronica McGloin said: “It has been tremendous to have Rory Stewart behind this. There has been an incredible change in the government’s attitude since the beginning of his campaign and, because of that, a lot more isolated rural areas should now get the mobile coverage they so desperately need.”

Rory began his campaign last year in response to anger from his constituents about the lack of coverage and his own shock at discovering – when he walked across the constituency – that mobile connectivity was better in Afghanistan than in rural Cumbria.

Research shows that in 2009 the internet contributed an estimate £100bn, or 7.2% of GDP, to the UK economy. The UK internet economy is expected to grow by 10% a year, reaching 10% of GDP by 2015. SMEs benefit especially from improved connectivity and access to e-business applications, and businesses in rural areas – exemplified by Rory’s constituency, Penrith and the Border – tend to be small, with a high proportion of micro-businesses and one-person businesses. Rural areas will also be starting from scratch: the improvement in mobile reception will not be incremental but a step-change.

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