THE Government’s commitment to ending mobile phone blackspots in the most rural locations has been called into doubt as it emerges a £150m fund has seen just two masts built.
Nearly four years after first pledging to bring phone signals to homes left behind, the Government’s Mobile Infrastructure Project has been branded a failure.
Ministers have managed to bring additional coverage to just 440 homes thanks to one mobile phone mast in Weaverthorpe in North Yorkshire, and one in North Molton, Devon.
When ministers launched the cash for masts project they declared some 60,000 homes and businesses would be covered by 2015, a target now pushed back until at least 2016.
Part of the delay has been blamed on local opposition to phone masts, and officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport say some 116 masts are at various stages of development.
But so far only around £5m of the infrastructure budget has been spent, with many of the blackspots missing out as a result.
The astonishing thing is they’ve only built two masts. Those two provided coverage to 400 houses – that’s £12,225 a houseChris Bryant MP
Anne McIntosh, chair of the environment and rural affairs Commons select committee, said that while investment in Weaverthorpe was welcome, others were clearly being denied the chance of better coverage.
The Thirsk MP said: “Much more needs to be done in other areas. With farming having one of the highest risks of accident and injury, it is unsafe not to have good mobile coverage, and a lack of signal also holds back economic growth in rural areas.”
Chris Bryant, Labour’s said culture secretary, said the policy had been a failure.
The MP said: “Good mobile and broadband coverage is essential for economic development.
“It is a scandal that over five years this Tory-Lib Dem Government has done next to nothing to extend mobile coverage or tackle not-spots. They’ve badly let down rural communities and businesses.
“After years of delay their £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Project has only spent £4.89 million, three per cent of the budget.
“The astonishing thing is they’ve only built two masts. Those two provided coverage to 400 houses – that’s £12,225 a house.”
A DCMS spokesman said: “Through the legally-binding mobile coverage agreement we’ve secured the main mobile operators, we will get guaranteed voice and text coverage from each operator across 90 per cent of the UK geographic area by the end of 2017. This will halve the areas currently blighted by patchy coverage as a result of partial ‘not-spots’.
“Those without coverage are mainly in rural and remote areas, where it may be uneconomical for mobile operators to provide a service without Government intervention.
“These are the areas the Government is focussing this £150 million project on.”