Better connectivity for the Borders region is high on MP Calum Kerr’s agenda and he pressed home the point in a Westminster debate last week.
During the debate on mobile phone coverage the focus was on the coming transfer of a new band of mobile spectrum, 700MHz, to carry mobile data.
Pointing out that across the mobile networks, coverage indoors drops to 31% in rural areas compared to 91% in urban areas, Mr Kerr, MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, said: “The UK’s approach to the mobile sector has left over a quarter of Scotland’s landmass without any voice coverage, and nearly half without any data coverage.
“The 700MHz spectrum band is particularly well suited to providing coverage in rural areas because it allows for coverage over a wide geographic area and can penetrate buildings.”
Mr Kerr called on the government not to use mobile spectrum licence auctions as a “cash cow” for the treasury.
“Spectrum should be considered in terms of the wider economic and social benefits it could provide. Other countries have sought to raise much less in terms of revenue, in return for operators delivering greater coverage,” he said.
Ofcom recently announced that it plans to make the 700Mhz spectrum band available for mobile data by 2020.
“This is an historic opportunity to redress centuries of rural isolation and exclusion, by making mobile a truly universal service. This means access to the internet on any device, anytime, anywhere,” said Mr Kerr.
“We already know that a major shift in consumer behaviour means that many people are switching to mobile devices for access to the internet.
“In 2016, 66% of adults used their mobile phones to go online, up from 61% in 2015.
“Some 86% of UK mobile customers currently use a smartphone. Perhaps most significantly, 92% of under-35s now view their smartphone as their primary device for accessing the internet. We can also point to a growing trend of favouring mobile data over public wi-fi.
“Research has found that 72% of people prefer to use their device’s 3G or 4G connection to access the internet even when they are in a public space.”
A plan to increase and improve mobile coverage in Scotland has already been agreed between the Scottish Government and mobile operators.
The plan will see the Scottish Government work with the industry and other partners to maximise commercial investment in 4G mobile in Scotland, and ultimately, to support 5G-ready infrastructure across the country.
Scottish cabinet secretary for connectivity, Fergus Ewing, said: “Ensuring high quality digital connectivity for people across Scotland is a priority for the Scottish Government. That is why we are doing everything we can to improve the case for investment in Scotland.
“We recognise that improved mobile connectivity is an integral part of delivering that ambition. Significant progress is being made towards meeting 4G coverage obligations, but we recognise that coverage gaps will still remain in some of the most rural and remote areas.
“We will identify where those gaps will be after the commercial rollout, and together with the industry will jointly design technology solutions and business models that will allow services to be delivered by operators in a sustainable way.”