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Mobile Phones: Rural Areas

Volume 487: debated on Monday 9 February 2009

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what assessment he has made of the availability of mobile phone signals in rural areas. (253666)

[holding answer 2 February 2009]: The mobile network operators build base stations in order to meet customers need for coverage and service. The decision to build in a particular location is largely a commercial matter for the operators.

For 2G or GSM networks the original coverage obligations laid on GSM operators were discharged many years ago and have been significantly exceeded on a voluntary basis. In the case of new 3G networks, an 80 per cent. population coverage obligation by 2007 was placed on each licence holder to encourage network rollout.

In July 2006 Ofcom consulted on the technical approach it would take in its assessment of compliance with this obligation. Site data was issued to Ofcom by the mobile operators on 14 November 2007.

Four of the five 3G licensees were in compliance with the obligation, but O2 was found to reach only 75.69 per cent. of the population, a shortfall that meant around 2.5 million people could not access its service.

In February 2008 Ofcom issued O2 with a notice under the Wireless Telegraphy Act for breach of licence. This proposed that if the 80 per cent. obligation was still unmet by the end of June 2008, Ofcom would shorten the term of O2’s licence by four months.

In May 2008 Ofcom confirmed that O2 had met its obligation.