Plaid Cymru has pushed amendments in the House of Commons to ensure the whole of the UK can access high-speed mobile data signal.
The Plaid Cymru amendments would enable mobile network operators to use publicly-funded infrastructure as masts, avoiding the need for additional masts to be built and potentially speeding-up the process of reaching mobile not-spots across Wales and the other UK countries.
The party has also called for mobile users to be allowed to ‘roam’ to other networks where their own provider cannot provide a signal. The Party’s Media spokesperson, Hywel Williams MP, argued that it is “absurd” that whilst Welsh citizens are in the dark when it comes to mobile data signal, it is not a problem for foreign tourists who are allowed to roam.
Ofcom’s ‘Connected Nations’ report, published in 2015, identifies Wales as the country in the UK with the least 3G signal. Outdoor voice 2G and 3G Coverage on A and B roads by the four operators is around 50%, with only one operator reaching 76%. The percentage of premises getting basic voice calls coverage from all the big four networks in 2015 was just 65%, compared to 85% for the rest of the UK.
Commenting, Plaid Cymru’s Media spokesperson Hywel Williams MP, said:
“So called ‘not-spots’ have been a problem in Wales for far too long and successive governments have utterly failed to get a handle on it. Ofcom has identified Wales as the least connected country in the UK with rural Wales in particular being served badly.
“This isn’t just an inconvenience – it is a very damaging barrier to business in many parts of Wales and especially in rural areas where there is no such thing as ‘passing trade’. A barrier to business also means a barrier to jobs and the decline of rural towns.
“Whilst the problem is serious for Welsh citizens and Welsh businesses, it is not a problem for visitors to the UK because their foreign SIM cards automatically allow for national roaming, meaning their mobile will connect with the strongest signal available, regardless of the provider.
“In comparison, British mobile phone users are stuck with a single provider and, by extension, a lack of mobile phone coverage in areas not covered by their provider. In some areas of North West Wales, service users are more likely to be able to pick up stronger roaming signals from Ireland than they are signals from their very own network operator.
“National roaming is allowed in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and in some parts of France. Our amendments would enable Welsh citizens and businesses to do so too.
“Our amendments would also allow multiple mobile network operators such as O2 and Vodafone to use publicly-funded infrastructure as masts, not just EE as is currently the case. This would avoid the need for them to build new masts themselves, speeding up the process of reaching these mobile not-spots and helping to achieve truly universal coverage.
“The Government has committed to funding masts for the Emergency Services Network so the infrastructure will already be in place. Whilst the Government has embarked upon this contract with EE, we argue that, because EE will be able to offer improved commercial services as a result of this infrastructure, the Government should allow access for all commercial networks instead of handing over a monopoly to one company.
“Successive governments have promised to deal with this issue and have repeatedly failed to do so. The government should accept Plaid Cymru’s amendments and finally act on their promises to the people of Wales and the UK.”