Mobile firms accused of ‘marking their own homework’ on coverage stats

LGA urges government to ensure Ofcom can independently verify network coverage

Credit: succo from Pixabay 

The Local Government Association has urged the government to empower Ofcom to provide an independent annual assessment of mobile network coverage across the UK.

The call for the regulator to be given new powers comes alongside a warning that network operators are currently “marking their own homework”. 

The LGA claimed that websites allowing consumers to check network coverage in their area are typically reliant on computer modelling exercises undertaken by operators, and “are not based on the real-life experience of phone users”.

The organisation, which represents local authorities across England and Wales, said that its member councils are often called upon to “hold mobile network operators to account” on behalf of citizens who have found that coverage does not live up to what they had been led to expect.

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Within the next three months or so, the government is due to agree with the UK’s four mobile operators – O2, EE, Vodafone, and Three – a £1bn deal that will see the quartet share resources to deliver a Rural Shared Network. The telcos have indicated their willingness to provide cumulative funding of £530m, which will be added to £500m provided by the government.

The ultimate goal of this exercise is to ensure that, by 2025, 95% of the UK is covered by a mobile network.

Before this deal is agreed, the LGA believes that the government ought to give Ofcom the power to independently verify the coverage claims of mobile firms. The regulator should also be tasked with providing “annual speed and reliability health checks using on-the-ground testing”, according to the membership body.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, who chairs the organisation’s People and Places Board, said: “The industry’s proposal to increase mobile coverage across local areas is a positive step. However, we know that the way mobile operators and Ofcom measure outdoor coverage does not account for real-life experience. Like housing, education and transport provision, digital connectivity is central to thriving communities – with millions of people relying on mobile coverage every day, including businesses and our most vulnerable. It is important our communities are not cut off from the digital age.”

He added: “Councils are government’s key partners in driving improvement in people’s lives across the whole country. Before the government signs up to any new deal, we want to work with them to ensure that we can properly measure whether mobile operators are achieving coverage that improves mobile signal in the real world, rather than numbers on a spreadsheet.”


Sam Trendall

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