I can assure readers that Norfolk County Council is very much aware of mobile phone problems which beset many parts of the county and is pursuing a resolution.
Because my division is particularly rural, covering some 36 parishes and hamlets, I am acutely aware of the situation and share the frustration. Along with fellow councillors on our Broadband, Mobile Phone and Digital Working Group, I am also aware that the problem even exists in some of our towns. So what is being done?
First I need to explain that the situation regarding mobile phone provision is entirely different to the provision of improved broadband. In brief Norfolk County Council was awarded funds from the government towards improved broadband and has been able to add to the fund from a range of sources. As a result NCC has been able to ensure this pot of money is used solely to improve Norfolk’s broadband provision.
However, the finance to upgrade mobile phone provision comes from the mobile phone operators in a countrywide arrangement with the government. Therefore Norfolk County Council cannot control what is spent in Norfolk. What we can and have done is to ensure we have up-to-date information from both the government and mobile phone operators; ensuring at the same time that they are all regularly made aware of Norfolk’s needs and wants. We are in regular contact with Mobile UK, which represents mobile operators, putting across our concerns and seeking information as to developments. Additionally, the working group has met twice with representatives from the four main mobile network operators (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone).
We already knew that mobile operators have an agreement with government to achieve 90 per cent geographic voice coverage across the country by the end of 2017.
We have now been assured that operators are on track to meet this commitment which should also result in an increase in 4G data coverage. In turn, the government is reviewing the Electronic Communications code to help operators deploy new infrastructure – particularly important in rural areas.
The government will review the coverage situation once the 90 per cent coverage target has been achieved and the new Emergency Services Network (ESN) has been deployed. (The ESN is the new communications system which will be used by the Police, Fire & Rescue, the Ambulance Service and other public safety users. Where public money is used to subsidise ESN expansion in rural areas the infrastructure will be made available to all mobile operators.) Network operators are working together to share sites and improve infrastructure. However they are still commercially independent so the operators will not publically share future coverage plans.
Most mobile phone operators have a coverage checker available on their own website but there is also a coverage checker available on the OFCOM website: www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/advice/mobile-coverage-checker
In 2017 we will be writing to the Minister responsible for Culture, Media and Sport requesting intervention regarding Norfolk’s access to mobile phone networks.
County Councillor Wells
Division (Glaven, Priory,
Walsingham Wards); Chair Broadband, Mobile Phone & Digital Working Group