On 11 March 2021, the UK Government announced it is one step closer to delivering better mobile coverage in rural areas. It has published its transparency notice for the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme and can proceed with a £500M investment to provide the whole of the UK with better mobile connectivity.
The SRN is one of the first UK infrastructure programmes to confirm funding after Brexit via a new process that is both faster and less bureaucratic. The world-leading £1Bn Government deal with the UK’s four Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) O2, EE, Three and Vodafone will see public and private investment in a network of new and existing phone masts, closing not-spots and levelling up connectivity throughout the UK.
Total not-spots are the hard-to-reach areas in the UK where there is currently no coverage from any mobile operator.
Closing these not-spots will give rural customers a better choice of provider, with more offering coverage across new areas for the first time. People will also benefit from improved access to mobile banking, government and emergency services, along with better access to shopping and other online benefits thanks to improvements in connectivity.
Minister for Digital Infrastructure Matt Warman said: “The Shared Rural Network is a key part of the Government’s infrastructure revolution to level up and unlock new economic opportunities in every corner of the UK. Mobile firms are making great progress boosting 4G services in countryside communities as part of their side of this landmark agreement.
“With the publication of this notice, we shall now push on with making patchy or poor coverage a thing of the past as we build back better from the pandemic.”
The new funding will enable new masts to be built, getting rid of total not-spots, and upgrading radio equipment built as part of the Home Office’s Emergency Services Network (ESN) Programme which will enable MNOs to provide more coverage.
The MNOs have already started work as part of the deal to close the majority of partial not-spots – areas where there is coverage from at least one, but not all, operators – by mid-2024. There have already been more than 700 sites announced this year to help close these areas in the UK.
With £500M in funding now available, the Government and the MNOs remain confident that combined coverage will be delivered to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025, with areas around the UK starting to see improvements to 4G coverage long before completion.
The measure has been developed in compliance with the UK’s subsidy obligations under the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement, including the publication of a transparency notice. The Shared Rural Network notice sets out how the programme will pursue better coverage to remedy market failures in a proportionate way, and how the subsidy will mitigate any negative effects on EU-UK trade and investment.
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