James Heath, Director for Digital Infrastructure at the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), told the UK’s four mobile operators to find a solution by Friday.
An agreement proposed in May and agreed in principle by the UK’s four mobile network operators to bring coverage to areas that lack it, typically rural, is in danger of foundering.
A last-minute proposal by BT, which has the biggest mobile and fixed networks, has caused yet more delay to finalising the agreement that was proposed in
This is embarrassing for the government as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would take steps to end of areas without 4G coverage in the first 100 days of his prime ministership.
The proposed shared rural network is £1 billion project, half of which will be funded by the government.
The latest spat between the parties – EE, O2 (Telefonica UK), Three and Vodafone – is due to BT, owner of EE, wanting to include 320 new masts in the agreement and charge 250% more than the going commercial rate for access to the operators’ towers.
BT is insisting its position is fair. A spokesperson was quoted in the Financial Times saying, “We’ve proposed a far simpler and more pragmatic way for shared rural network to succeed in the 100-day window, plus a way to reduce any taxpayer money by also including new sites that are being built by us in the future.
“It’s now down to the industry to finalise the deal to get it done.”
The network sharing deal was designed to bring 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025 from about 91% now.
Heath’s intervention is the second by the DCMS: last year the operators were threatened with legislation to oblige them to share towers if they wouldn’t cooperate willingly.