Rural consumers will start to feel the benefits of the Government’s mobile infrastructure project this time next year as £150m is spent to bring coverage to not-spots, MPs have been told.
Communications minister Ed Vaizey said a procurement process would start within the next few months before a contractor is signed by the end of the year. The project, which aims to bring mobile coverage to 99% of the population, will be completed by 2015. Vaizey (pictured) said: ‘We must work with operators to try and ensure that they all begin to provide coverage in areas that are not currently covered.’
Vaizey told MPs that subject to an agreement with UK operators, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will publish a map of ‘not-spots’ to show where the project will focus its resources. He said: ‘We are also seeking to achieve synergies with the rural broadband programme, for which £530m has been set aside, and that may include, for example, sharing backhaul.’
During the debate on future mobile competition, Vaizey told MPs he supported the European Parliament’s proposals to reduce roaming charges ‘in principle’. MEPs are due to vote on the proposals, which would see a cap on data roaming charges and reductions in the price of calls and texts abroad, next month. Vaizey said: ‘There are probably a few details that need to be ironed out, but we have urged progress on that directive because we recognise that it presents opportunities that will allow consumers to conduct their business more cheaply and effectively.’
Vaizey also warned operators not to interfere with the forthcoming 4G auction by taking legal action. The row over the auction reignited this week after Everything Everywhere was granted provisional approval by Ofcom to refarm its 1800MHz spectrum for 4G. Vodafone CEO Guy Laurence accused the regulator of having ‘taken leave of its senses’ and claimed that Everything Everywhere could tie up the auction in litigation after launching its own services.
Speaking after Ofcom awarded provisional approval to Everything Everywhere, Vaizey said: ‘The time for arguing about such matters in the courts has long since passed, and for this country to maintain its economic edge and dynamic communications market, we must proceed with the auction and with spectrum liberalisation.’
However, Vaizey was warned that competition could be undermined under the current proposals. Alun Cairns, MP for Vale of Glamorgan, said 800MHz should be guaranteed to all four players in order to safeguard competitiveness.
He said: ‘Over the longer term, the operator without 800MHz or 900MHz would walk away or be subject to a takeover by one that had the desired spectrum.’
But Vaizey claimed the gap between sub-1000MHz and that above it was narrow. He said: ‘Interestingly, whichever operator someone works for, it always appears in their world view that other operators have an extraordinary competitive advantage.’