Filling the mobile gap
Although mobile coverage – and telecoms more widely – is a reserved issue, the lack of any UK-wide strategy on mobile has caused us to take the lead in this area.
Last year, I published our Mobile Action Plan, which clearly sets out our commitment to work with industry and other partners to improve mobile coverage across Scotland.
At the heart of that Action Plan has been the development of a 4G mobile infill programme, which provides the right level and type of subsidy to enable rollout in non-commercial areas.
Today, and in partnership with Scottish Futures Trust, I am delighted to launch the first phase of that 4G Infill Programme. This aims to deliver 4G mobile services to some of Scotland’s so-called ‘notspots’ – those areas that will remain without service once mobile operators complete their commercial 4G rollouts.
However, this is not straightforward. There is uncertainty on the extent of 4G rollout in Scotland and there are complexities in developing a programme that addresses the commercial issues associated with deploying infrastructure and service provision in challenging – mainly rural – areas.
Today’s announcement is the first exploratory phase of this programme aimed at dealing with these challenges.
We will invest up to £25 million through delivery of an initial phase of future-proofed mobile masts based on a number of established mobile notspots, and are now formally consulting industry in order to ratify this proposed initial intervention area, with an intention to enter procurement later this year.
The first phase is limited in scope and will not provide coverage to all notspots in Scotland. What this modest initial phase does do however, is clearly set out our commitment to develop and deliver solutions to address poor mobile coverage in Scotland.
In the meantime, I continue to push the UK Government on the need for regulatory and policy reform, which could significantly improve coverage in the longer term. For example, Ofcom could introduce more stringent coverage obligations in forthcoming 5G spectrum auctions.
And we will continue to work with industry and Ofcom to better understand the scale of the coverage problem, with a view to exploring potential solutions in a later phase of this programme.