Calum Kerr, the MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, has called for “bold initiatives” to tackle the problem of poor mobile signals in Scotland.
Mr Kerr – who previously worked in the telecommunications sector, is the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson in Westminster – where he is leading efforts to develop solutions to the challenge of rural connectivity in order to reflect the Scottish Government’s aim to provide world class digital infrastructure by 2021.
He has already held talks on a number of issues, including mobile connectivity, with communications regulator Ofcom and the Scottish Government.
The MP’s call for measures to improve rural mobile coverage comes after consumer champion Which? found that Scots only have access to a 4G signal 50.4% of the time.
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, commenting:
“This is an eminently fixable problem if we just come at it from the right angle. The reason that we’re suffering and 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 has pledged to 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.
“If other countries can mandate 99 per cent population coverage indoors, let’s do that. 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 licenses,” he added.
While facilitating a workshop on connectivity at the Scottish Rural Parliament on Thursday, Mr Kerr also pointed out that such a shift in policy was all the more important given the emergence of the next generation of mobile technology, known as 5G, which is expected to come online over course of the next decade.
“With nearly half of Scotland’s landmass without any mobile data coverage whatsoever we also need to consider far more ambitious targets for geographic coverage. These are the kind of bold initiatives required to ensure that no one in Scotland is excluded from the digital superhighways of the future.”