MPs call on the Government to keep Britain connected
A strengthened Electronic Communications Code is vital to drive forward UK connectivity and levelling up.
All of us depend upon fast, reliable, and affordable access to data to live our daily lives. So do the schools, emergency services, and businesses we use every day. This makes the infrastructure that keeps the nation digitally connected every bit as critical as rail, energy, or roads.
Making sure this infrastructure keeps pace with the nation’s growing needs is the role of the UK’s telecoms industry. As the nation’s demand for data has risen, investment in new infrastructure by the industry has helped keep prices down. In fact, a recent Ofcom report found that, over the last five years, whilst average data use almost quadrupled, average prices fell by around one-fifth. This is not just good news for consumers and businesses, it is also essential in ensuring that all places can contribute to, and share in economic growth.
However, the challenge that confronts the nation now is increasing speed and access for businesses and consumers in the face of a predicted twentyfold increase in demand for mobile data by 2030. If this does not happen, then some of our poorest and most isolated communities could be left behind. This is particularly important for lower-income groups such as the 1.5 million UK consumers who depend on mobile data as their only source of internet access at home.
Key to achieving this is a stronger legislative framework that removes barriers for providers and opens up access to communities in every part of the UK.
Conservative MP, Sally-Ann Hart, believes that for coastal communities like the one she represents, improving digital connectivity is essential for local people and local businesses.
“Digital connectivity, including the ongoing rollout of 4G and 5G technology, is an integral part of levelling up across our United Kingdom,” she tells The House. “This is especially the case in rural communities and smaller towns where good connectivity has long been lacking, as well as in coastal communities that are some of the most deprived areas in the country.”
Chair of the Broadband and Digital Communication APPG, Selaine Saxby MP, agrees with Hart. She sees digital connectivity for rural areas as vital if they are going to contribute fully to the future economy.
“I know how important the very best connectivity is for my constituents in North Devon, and other rural areas across the UK,” she says. “I am determined to engage closely with the telecoms sector as it works hard to rollout the next generation of mobile networks to ensure we realise the benefits that technology like 5G promises for consumers and businesses.”
For this to happen, government needs to work with the industry and landowners to streamline access to land to maintain digital access in the face of rising consumer demand. However, the key piece of legislation that supports this, the Electronic Communications Code has simply not kept pace with the rapid growth in demand for data.
Recognising the need for reform, the government has now brought forward the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, which is currently making its passage through Parliament. The Bill sets out proposals to strengthen the existing Code to help keep the UK connected.
A stronger Code will bring more clarity to the current arrangements, speed up access to sites, and provide a framework that improves digital access. It will also address the current unfairness, where a small number of landowners can essentially “block” access for entire communities, stifling local economic growth and thwarting the government’s levelling-up ambitions.
Keeping Britain connected is now accepted as a national priority.
Instead, the revised Code will strike a fairer balance between the needs of landowners and the needs of local communities. Ultimately, it is businesses and communities across the UK that will benefit the most, staying connected in a way that supports work, education, and economic growth.
Jerome Mayhew MP believes that 4G and 5G are vital for areas that lack physical connectivity, particularly as the economy recovers following the Covid pandemic.
“The pandemic made us even more reliant on digital connectivity and exposed the weakness of the current provision like never before,” he tells The House. “Changing patterns of work and service provision mean that this need is not going to go away. 4G and 5G provision is even more important to rural communities than superfast broadband, filling in the gaps that physical connections continue to leave behind.”
These are the communities that will fall further behind without legislative support to address the delays in improving infrastructure that stem from the challenge of accessing the land required. The Centre for Policy Studies has warned that if delays continue at their current rate, by 2027 over 11 million households and businesses could be missing out on vital digital connectivity. This shortfall will create an economic and social cost that the nation can ill afford as we rebuild the post-pandemic economy.
“Consumers may not always be aware of the infrastructure that sits behind their 4G or 5G phone,” Gareth Elliott from Mobile UK tells The House, “but if that infrastructure fails to keep pace with demand for data then it is something that everyone will be aware of. Keeping Britain connected is now accepted as a national priority. This Bill rightly focuses on removing current barriers to rolling out modern, effective, and affordable digital access for all of our communities. This will benefit people and businesses across the entire country.”
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