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Minister accuses councils of broadband sabotage

30/01/15

Local authorities thwarting efforts to eliminate 'not spots' says culture secretary

Sajid Javid by Gareth MilnerA Cabinet minister has accused some town halls of damaging his attempts to eliminate mobile phone 'not-spots'.

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid delivered a bullish progress report on efforts to tackle poor mobile coverage, arguing it would soon be a thing of the past for most areas.

Javid said 90% of the country would boast coverage in two years' time - dramatically reducing huge 'partial not-spots' in mainly rural areas. Further improvements would push that to "close enough" to 100%, giving Britain "some of the best coverage in the world", he said.

But those further advances will flow from the £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP), which will pay to put up extra mobile phone masts in uncovered areas.

That project has been criticised for its slow progress, but Javid said it was wrestling with obtaining up-to-date data on the locations of the declining number of not-spots.

He said: "MIP is going as fast as it can. One of the key issues, unfortunately, is you often find people that complained about poor local mobile coverage in their area are the same people that don't want the mast.

"Every mast needs planning permission. I'm not going to name any local authorities, but some that have been the most vocal to me about decent coverage in their area - actually they have been rejecting planning applications from us.

"Without a mast there is no coverage. It sounds simple but that is the issue you have to deal with."

The comments follow the striking of a £5bn deal requiring the big four mobile phone companies to each provide coverage to all but 10% of the landmass, by 2017.

Partial not-spots - lacking coverage from some of the four mobile networks - blight more than 40% of ten local authority areas, mainly in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Before Christmas, Javid abandoned plans to introduce "national roaming" - allowing customers to swap between networks - after the home secretary protested that such roaming would aid terrorists.

But he insisted the new idea was an improvement, a legally binding agreement on EE, O2, Three and Vodafone to extend investment to remote areas.

And he said: "Mobiles are not the luxury that they might have been seen as 20 years ago. It's seen as a utility, as a necessity, that you are able to make voice calls wherever you are in the UK. You won't find a single country the size of Britain, with a similar land mass that has 100% mobile coverage - or that has a plan for that - because of geography."

Pictured: "Sajid Javid" by Gareth Milner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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