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Debate on Rural Broadband and Mobile Coverage

May 18, 2011

Parliament is debating rural broadband and mobile coverage and Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith has previewed the discussion with a piece in today’s Telegraph:

For too many of our rural communities, being able to get on the internet reliably and at a decent speed is a pipe dream. Ironically, it is these rural areas that have the most need for the internet.

If you have one bus a day into your nearest town, if you struggle to get to a local college, it can make a key difference.

The majority of businesses in many parts of my constituency in North Yorkshire, and across rural Britain, are small firms and farmers looking to diversify. The lack of decent internet connections in today’s connected world limits the growth in the private sector that will be needed in the future. I was told last week that if broadband speeds didn’t improve in one town in North Yorkshire, one of the biggest businesses and employers would move out.
That is why I am pleased the Government is committed to improving broadband access to rural communities and has pilot schemes for better access and speeds in four parts of the country, including in North Yorkshire.

Rural Britain wants action, not words. We need solutions that are value for money and sustainable. It is vital we do not just get it right for today’s needs and tomorrow’s technology, but innovations for years to come. As with the Government’s decision to press ahead with high-speed rail, we need to have vision.

That is why we must look at all available technologies – fibre, satellite, wireless and mobile. The latter will be a focus in the debate on rural broadband and mobile coverage led by my brilliant colleague, Rory Stewart.

Making sure that when the 4G spectrum is put up for auction that rural Britain is not left behind is key to the Government’s commitments. We should ensure 4G reaches rural communities and that is why a debate in Parliament today urges Ofcom to increase the coverage obligation attached to the 800 MHz spectrum licence to 98 per cent.

For those of us lucky enough to represent such beautiful rural constituencies, we are used to Fridays and weekends with little phone signal. The 3G spectrum, sold off for so much money, has left many parts of rural Britain not covered. We must make sure this does not happen with 4G.

Some will say it does not make economic sense. But it does not make economic sense to hold entrepreneurs back. To stop a business expanding because they cannot get a high-speed connection. Or to force a rural British firm to move to China due to lack of connectivity.

Broadband is becoming the glue that holds our economy together.

Without it, businesses cannot function and people’s lives are poorer.

It is important that MPs debate this issue, and we work together to push Ofcom, the telecoms companies and the Government to make sure rural Britain is not left behind. The telcos used all their might to ensure that the Government didn’t pressurise Ofcom too much on coverage, now rural MPs will be lobbying equally hard to ensure that coverage is central to the forthcoming auction of the 4G 800 MHz spectrum.

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