News that O2, Three and Vodafone have agreed a new deal to enhance Powys' rural mobile coverage has been welcomed by a local Member of the Senedd.
Russell George MS, Member of the Welsh Parliament for Montgomeryshire, has welcomed the announcement by the three mobile network operators which will see them build and share 33 masts in Wales to boost their 4G rural coverage and eliminate partial not-spots.
This programme will deliver the first stage of the £1 billion Shared Rural Network which is a UK Government initiative aiming to improve rural mobile coverage and was agreed by the mobile network operators, Government and Ofcom in March 2020.
Funded by the mobile industry and UK Government, investment will be made in new and existing phone masts to increase all operators' 4G coverage to at least 90% of UK landmass and their aggregate coverage to 95% by 2026. It will provide guaranteed coverage to an additional 280,000 premises and 16,000 km of roads. It will boost ‘in car’ coverage on around 45,000 km of roads and provide better indoor coverage in around 1.2m business premises and homes.
The construction of the new masts will commence this yearand is scheduled to be completed by 2024 in line with the agreement reached with the UK Government and Ofcom.
Responding to the announcement, Mr George said:
"Following the UK Government's £1 billion investment in the Shared Rural Network, I welcome this announcement from O2, Three and Vodafone that it will build and share 33 masts in Wales to boost 4G rural coverage.
"It is essential that we have a good proportion of these masts in Montgomeryshire because when it comes to mobile coverage, Powys continues to lag behind the Wales and UK average.
"I have ongoing discussions with all mobile network operators, highlighting areas where there is no mobile signal at all. I'm hoping that this announcement will be the beginning of eradicating these "notspots" forever.
"The exact number and location of masts will be subject to finding suitable sites, obtaining power supply and backhaul and securing the necessary permissions through the planning system so it is essential that operators, local Government, and Welsh Government allwork together.
"We have seen new planning policy and updated guidance in England and Scotland which has helped speed up the process for new mobile phone masts in appropriate locations. The Welsh Government now needs to put this in place here in Wales as a matter of urgency and we need an updated accord with our National Parks that recognises the importance of digital connectivity to the residents, businesses and visitors to these sensitive rural areas.
"I will also continue to press the Welsh Government to use the devolved policy levers at its disposal to incentivise commercial investment in our telecoms infrastructure so that the 'digital divide' in Mid Wales is narrowed rather than widened. However, all in all, this is a very positive development for Mid Wales which I welcome."