24 April 2024
Public Accounts Committee: Mobile Connectivity

The Cotswolds MP raised with senior officials during a Public Accounts Committee inquiry the issue of broadband poles that have been blighting villages including Willersey, notspots, and the future of satellite technology to help improve coverage in rural areas. The Public Accounts Committee held an inquiry on the progress of UK-wide reliable mobile connectivity, with a public meeting on Monday 22 April. MPs including Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown who is the Deputy Chair, questioned a panel of senior officials including the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology.

Sir Geoffrey began the inquiry by asking about the installation of broadband poles in areas, such as Willersey, where adequate systems installed in underground ducts already exist. He suggested that the Electronic Communications Code Regulations 2003 need to be amended as well as planning legislation to prevent this from happening in the future, at least in national parks or areas of outstanding national beauty.

Notspots and partial notspots for mobile signal are an issue across rural areas, Sir Geoffrey raised the Fossebridge on the A429 which despite being a major arterial road, has a particular stretch with no signal. As well as raising 4G and 5G coverage problems raised by a constituent in Coln St Aldwyns.

He also raised the use of low-orbit satellites, such as Elon Musk’s Starlink, which could fill many of the notspot gaps in broadband roll-out and in mobile phone technology in rural areas. The Permanent Secretary confirmed that the Government is currently running trials in 15 sites to assess the cost-effectiveness and the success at supporting hard-to-reach areas compared with traditional infrastructure.  

Commenting on the inquiry, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said:

“The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is a great opportunity to raise issues in the constituency with some of the most senior officials in Government.  Now that the public meeting is over the PAC will write a report and a series of recommendations to the Government, which they are required to respond to usually within six weeks.

“There are particular problems in rural areas, in remote areas receiving superfast broadband, the same is true for mobile phone reception, although the locations are not always the same. My campaigning on the public accounts for super-fast broadband has affected a recent contract signed by the government to invest in east Gloucestershire. Hopefully, similar campaigning on mobile signal in the constituency will have similar results.”