The Mobile Infrastructure Project’s deadline has been extended until at least spring of 2016, Mobile can exclusively reveal.
The government-backed scheme, which is designed to fill in the UK’s ‘not spots’, has been struggling with planning permission leading to oonly two sites being built.
The £150m project was first announced in October 2011 and received the full backing of all four of the major networks in July 2013. The contract was awarded to Arqiva, which has conceded to Mobile that ‘there had been challenges’ and that the project had ‘taken longer than expected’.
The company’s community relations manager, Peter Wingate-Saul, said: ‘You have to engage with all stakeholders, including local communities, throughout the implementation process. We are currently acquiring, building and switching on sites at a good rate.’
Speaking in reaction to the news that the project had been delayed Helen Goodman, Labour’s shadow minister for culture and media, said: ‘First the government failed to roll out broadband on time, now it's the same story on MIP. The problem is the Tories just don't care about communications services in the countryside.’
Last year the Government promised that residents in Cornwall, Northumberland, Strabane, Aberdeenshire and Powys would have sites set up by Arqiva by the end of the 2013. So far the only sites to be build were Wimborne in Yorkshire and North Molton in Devon.
While coverage has been steadily improving, around 20% of premises in the UK cannot get a 3G service from all four operators. According to the latest figures from Ofcom, 6.1% of premises cannot get a signal at all from EE, O2, Vodafone and Three.
However, there is still concerted opposition, particularly in rural areas, to the building of mobile masts, leading to planning delays.
EE, O2, Vodafone and Three have all signed up to provide coverage from each of the sites and handle the operating costs for the 20-year shelf-life of the project. The Government was also set to stump up the funding to build the new site infrastructure.