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Mobile Phone Coverage

Volume 651: debated on Thursday 13 December 2018

The Government are committed to ensuring that there is high-quality mobile coverage where people live, work and travel. We welcome the opportunity that Ofcom’s forthcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction offers to extend coverage across all parts of the UK, and we continue to work across Government with Ofcom and the mobile network operators to support investment and deliver coverage to 95% of the UK’s land mass by 2022.

That all sounds very well, but it would appear that we still have some way to go. Recent research from Which? and OpenSignal showed that 4G phone users in Scotland can get a 4G signal only 50.4% of the time on average, compared with 69.7% in London. In Wales, that figure is as low as 35%. What are the Government doing about that?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that there is considerably more progress to be made—I do not need to explain to him the particular geographical difficulties in Scotland—but it is worth recognising that considerable progress has been made. He quoted those figures, but there are slightly different figures when one looks at 4G coverage from at least one mobile network operator. The increase from last year to this year is considerable. In June 2017, about 50% of Scotland was covered by one mobile operator at 4G level; that figure was up to 75% in May 2018. I agree with him entirely that there is more work to do, and we intend to do it.

It is good to hear the Secretary of State say that there is more work to do because there really is. My constituency runs along the M4 corridor. Some villages just two or three miles from the M4 simply have no coverage—not just no 3G or 4G. Will the Secretary of State set out what additional investment he will provide to ensure not just that there is 4G, but that there is basic mobile phone coverage for many of the villages in my constituency?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There is more that we can do in relation to the road network. The aspiration is to get to a point, in 2022, where all major road networks are covered. As he mentioned, there will then be a knock-on benefit to areas near those roads. One way in which we can do that is to make maximum use of the emergency services network that is being rolled out by my colleagues in the Home Office that is producing increases in coverage, but as I said to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael)—I make no bones about it—there is a good deal more work to be done.

We have some of the worst networks in the advanced world. We heard yesterday that download speeds in Gloucestershire, for example, are 2,000 times slower than they are in Birmingham. Frankly, it adds insult to injury for those struggling to get on to universal credit, which is of course a digital-only benefit. The National Infrastructure Commission and Ofcom think that it is going to cost something like £11 billion to bring our networks into the 21st century, so will the Secretary of State assure the House that that is the full sum that he is seeking from Her Majesty’s Treasury?

The right hon. Gentleman has gradually shaded into the subject of broadband from mobile coverage, but it is certainly right to point out that considerable progress has been made on digital connectivity of all kinds—both mobile and broadband—over the last few years. There is a radical difference between the position that we are in now and the position we inherited in 2010 but, as I have said a number of times this morning, there is a good deal more to be done; the right hon. Gentleman is right about that. We will ensure that we are making full use not just of the market roll-outs, but of the extra support that needs to be provided to the parts of the country that will not be covered by a market roll-out. The right hon. Gentleman will have carefully read the future telecoms infrastructure review that we produced in the summer, which deals exactly with how we reach parts of the country that will not be reached by a market roll-out.