The Local Government Association (LGA) has said councils should retain a significant influence over the delivery of superfast broadband to their areas.
In its response to a report by Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee into poor broadband and mobile connectivity in rural communities, it said that local authorities should maintain their role in the planning process and help to hold network operators to account
The committee accused the Government of not grasping the scale of the challenge and saying it will struggle to fulfil Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent commitment to universal full fibre coverage by 2025.
Responding to the report, Councillor Kevin Bentley, chair of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: “High quality and consistent mobile coverage is the lifeblood of local economies and can only be achieved if our communities are served by all four major mobile operators not just one or two.
“Councils are best placed to understand the digital needs of their local areas. They have been at the centre of delivering the Superfast Broadband Programme, having committed £740 million to extending connectivity to the hardest to reach areas, but cannot fix the issue alone.
He said the Government needs to take proper account of councils’ role in the planning process and clearly demonstrate how operators will be held to account on their coverage commitments to deliver for residents and business.
Concerns over coverage
“Our Post-Brexit England Commission, launched earlier this year, outlines councils’ concerns that mobile network operators’ coverage data is not reflective of consumers’ mobile experience on the ground in rural areas,” he added.
“Independent analysis of coverage has revealed patchy access, high dropped call rates and not-spots in areas where coverage is reported by mobile operators to be sufficient. Given this, it is concerning that Ofcom has chosen to roll back its coverage obligation to reach only 90% of communities at a time when so many are already being poorly served.
“The Government needs to work with Ofcom to launch a rural mobile roaming scheme allowing customers to roam onto any available network should 4G coverage not reach 95% by 2022.
“In the meantime, any deal that the Government strikes with mobile network operators, such as recent proposals for a shared rural network, needs to take proper account of councils’ role in the planning process and clearly demonstrate how operators will be held to account on their coverage commitments to deliver for residents and business.”
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