Weekly Update: Digital Economy Bill, mobile coverage and hard Brexit

I’m back in Westminster this week and much of my time over the coming months will be focused on scrutinising the government’s Digital Economy Bill.

I’ll be pushing for the UK government to be more ambitious on its proposed Universal Service Obligation for broadband, and making sure that the rural voice is heard as this piece of legislation moves forward.

With a practical and constructive approach, I think we can win concessions from the UK government that have the potential to help redress the digital divide between urban and rural consumers. 

Improving Mobile Coverage

On Thursday I hosted a workshop at the Scottish Rural Parliament in Brechin looking at how we can improve mobile coverage in rural areas when the next generation of mobile technology, 5G, is rolled out over the coming decade.

On Wednesday, I spoke to listeners of the John Beattie programme about a report from the consumer champion Which? that found Scots only have a 4G signal 50.4% of the time. Several callers on the show pointed out how unfavourably coverage in rural Scotland compares with their experience in other countries – from Italy to Peru.

This was a reminder that the UK government needs to look at examples of best practice from abroad and learn from previous mistakes. Under the current regime almost half of the landmass of mainland Scotland has no mobile data coverage at all, because of the way we licence mobile networks. In Germany, for example, mobile spectrum licences are regulated in a way that makes improving rural connectivity a basic condition for mobile operators. This is exactly the kind of model that the UK should be emulating if it wants to end the huge disparity in mobile signals across the country.

Hard Brexit

After the Tory Party conference it now looks like a “hard” Brexit is on the cards. We still don’t know what the full implications of this process will be, but already a disturbing picture is starting to emerge. Last week the Prime Minister announced that Article 50 will be invoked next March and that Britain will almost certainly leave the European Single Market too.

This is the most extreme direction of travel that the government could have chosen after the Brexit vote. As the Fraser of Allander Institute outlined in its report on Brexit last week, a hard Brexit could see Scotland lose 5% of its GDP and 80,000 jobs.

But this is about more than just the future of our economy, vital though that is. It’s also about what kind of country we want to be. The ugly rhetoric from the Tories on foreign workers, doctors and students is shameful and irresponsible at a time of crisis.

Like all MPs, I have constituents from all over Europe. It’s my job to continue to support their efforts to seek guarantees about their long term future here and I utterly condemn the suggestion from Liam Fox that these people’s futures might be put at risk during Brexit negotiations.