MP calls for rural first policy

Borders MP Calum Kerr speaking in the House of Commons.
Borders MP Calum Kerr speaking in the House of Commons.

Bold initiatives are needed to tackle poor mobile signals in Scotland according to Calum Kerr, MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk.

Mr Kerr previously worked in the telecommunications sector and as the SNP’s digital spokesperson at Westminster he is leading efforts to develop solutions to the problems of rural connectivity.

So far he has had talks with Ofcom and the Scottish Government on a number of issues, including mobile signals and after consumer champion Which? found that 4G in Scotland is only available 50.4% of the time he decided it was time for action.

Speaking on BBC Scotland’s John Beattie Programme, Mr Kerr highlighted the need for a new approach to mobile spectrum licensing to remedy poor coverage.

“This is an eminently fixable problem if we just come at it from the right angle,” said Mr Kerr.

“The reason we’re struggling in so much of rural Scotland is because successive Westminster governments have seen the licensing of mobile spectrum as a cash cow and a way of making money rather than as critical infrastructure and something that is essential for our country.”

Mr Kerr will sit on the committee for the government’s new Digital Economy Bill which convenes this week and will make the case for a change to spectrum policy to government and regulators as the legislation moves forward.

Mobile network operators have to bid for a licence to use a certain frequency of spectrum in order to operate. Mr Kerr said that asking for higher standards from the operators was the most effective way to boost coverage in hard to reach areas.

“In Germany they have an “out to in” strategy, so mobile operators must cover rural areas first before they go into urban areas. These are commercial companies who cover rural areas first because they want to get into the high density areas.”

“I want the UK Government to follow this example and implement a rural first policy for future licences.”

At a Scottish Rural Parliament workshop last week Mr Kerr highlighted the need for a shift in policy as the next generation of mobile technology, 5G, is expected to come online over the next decade.

“These are the kind of bold initiatives required to ensure that no one in Scotland is excluded from the digital superhighways of the future,” added Mr Kerr.