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The PSTI Bill will unleash rural connectivity and boost productivity

The PSTI Bill will unleash rural connectivity and boost productivity

(Alamy)

3 min read

This month marks the 10 year anniversary of 4G rollout. Since then, countless communities have benefited from enhanced connectivity.

Delivering the next generation of mobile connectivity and ensuring that everyone across the United Kingdom can access it, is vital to securing economic growth. In recent years we have made great strides on improving digital connectivity in partnership with industry. But there is still much to do, especially for rural areas. If we are to press ahead with delivering on levelling up and driving improvements in productivity, digital connectivity must be at the heart of our agenda.

The importance of connectivity has never been clearer than during the last two years. It provided a lifeline to all of us, for both our working and social lives, through the pandemic. Demand for mobile connectivity has never been higher, and this demand will continue to grow. While rural connectivity has improved dramatically over recent years, it still lags behind urban areas. This is holding back productivity in these areas, a key part to unlocking prosperity.

While rural connectivity has improved dramatically over recent years, it still lags behind urban areas

According to the Federation of Small Businesses, an astonishing 57 per cent of small businesses in rural areas experienced unreliable connectivity prior to the pandemic. Addressing this will play a fundamental role in delivering the pro-growth agenda and I warmly welcome the plans to accelerate the gigabit broadband rollout announced in the Plan for Growth.

Industry is already investing in this rollout. Through the Shared Rural Network, the telecommunications industry has committed £500 million, matched by government, to deliver 4G connectivity to 95 per cent of the United Kingdom’s landmass by 2025. Crucially, this will provide connectivity to areas even when there is no economic case to do so, providing a public good which will benefit countless communities. The emphasis now must be on continuing this work, ensuring rollout can continue apace to benefit as many people as quickly as possible.

However, these good intentions are  currently being frustrated by the legislation that governs the relationship between landowners and the mobile infrastructure companies. The Electronic Communications Code was reformed in 2017 to accelerate rollout: bringing exorbitant rents in line with other utilities, and improving the ability of operators to share and upgrade sites to provide the best connectivity to the maximum number of people. The reforms have had the opposite effect: legal loopholes have been exploited by land aggregators extracting profit from the UK to maximise their rents while frustrating the provision of the necessary improved connectivity.

The government gets this. In November, it published the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, which seeks to amend the Code to deliver on its original intent. The bill will close these loopholes, enhance the industry’s ability to share and upgrade sites, and deliver the legal framework needed to connect the country.

The solution is here and ready to go. It is now essential that the new government gets on with bringing the bill into law. It will be an early signal to both business and communities that this government is serious about delivering the productivity boost that the UK needs.

 

Selaine Saxby is the Conservative MP for North Devon. 

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