‘Mobile coverage targets must be raised or Scotland will lag behind’

Mobile coverage in Scotland will continue to lag behind the rest of the UK unless more ambitious coverage targets are set, it has been claimed.

In a joint response to a consultation on coverage by regulatory body Ofcom, the Scottish Government and Scottish Futures Trust warned that its proposals would not be sufficient to bring the country in line with other UK nations.

In its response, the Scottish Government expressed disappointment that Ofcom’s original proposals to provide a geographic coverage obligation of 76% in Scotland had been reduced to 74%.

And although noting that the plans would see Scotland achieving the biggest level of coverage uplift in terms of percentage point increase, the Government wrote that it would still leave the country lagging behind.

Connectivity Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, urged the regulator to adopt equitable targets across the UK.

“While, legally, access to telecommunications is the responsibility of UK Ministers, I welcome the recent engagement between Ofcom, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Futures Trust in exploring alternative approaches beyond what is proposed,” said Mr Wheelhouse.

“However, I believe current proposals fall far too short for Scotland – something we’ve been saying for a considerable time now.

“Although we will see coverage improve as a result of Ofcom’s proposals, the proposals will still leave coverage in Scotland lagging behind Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

“On top of that, the target of 2 Mbps is not sufficiently aspirational, does not leave enough scope for future growth in service demand and should be reconsidered.

“The Scottish Government’s response to the 2018 consultation was also very clear – we didn’t believe Ofcom’s proposals were sufficiently ambitious.

The Scottish government last year committed to extending superfast broadband to all premises by 2021, with an investment of £600m in improved connectivity.

Mr Wheelhouse said the Government would continue to work in collaboration with the regular to improve coverage.

He said: “Even though it is not, for now, our responsibility, the Scottish Government is already investing £25 million of our own resources to improve mobile coverage through the Scottish 4G Infill Programme and we believe there are opportunities to test innovative technologies through our programme to improve coverage in Scotland.

“However, there is an essential role for Ofcom, as the UK-wide regulator, to work alongside that investment in order to maximise consumer access to services.

“I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with Ofcom and the Scottish Futures Trust to explore solutions and, ultimately, to ensure that Scotland is ready for the roll-out of 5G services.”

An Ofcom spokesman said: “We want to see the best possible mobile coverage in Scotland, so we’re proposing stretching new rules to boost reception in rural areas.

“Under these plans, Scotland would see the largest coverage increase of any UK nation. We’ll consider all responses to our consultation carefully, before finalising our decisions this summer.”