UK: Government breakthrough on £500 million support package to boost rural mobile coverage

Today the government is a step closer to delivering better mobile coverage in rural areas, as it publishes its transparency notice for the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme and can proceed with a £500 million investment to provide all corners of the UK with better mobile connectivity.

The Shared Rural Network is one of the first UK infrastructure programmes to confirm funding post-Brexit through a new process that is faster and less bureaucratic. The world-leading £1 billion government deal with the UK’s four Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) EE, O2, Three and Vodafone will see both public and private investment in a network of new and existing phone masts closing not-spots and levelling up connectivity across every corner of the UK.

Total not-spots are the hard-to-reach areas of the UK where there is currently no coverage from any mobile operator.

Minister for Digital Infrastructure Matt Warman said:

The Shared Rural Network is a key part of the government’s infrastructure revolution to level up and unlock new economic opportunities in every corner of the UK.

Mobile firms are making great progress boosting 4G services in countryside communities as part of their side of this landmark agreement.

With the publication of this notice, we shall now push on with making patchy or poor coverage a thing of the past as we build back better from the pandemic.

Closing total not spots will give rural consumers a better choice of providers, with more now offering coverage across new areas for the first time. People will also benefit from improved access to mobile banking, government and emergency services as well as shopping and other online benefits thanks to improved connectivity.

The funding will enable new masts to be built, getting rid of total not spots, and to upgrade radio equipment built as part of the Home Office’s Emergency Services Network (ESN) Programme which will enable MNOs to provide even more coverage.

The MNOs have already begun work as part of the deal to close the majority of ‘partial not-spots’ – areas where there is coverage from at least one but not all operators – by mid-2024. There have already been over 700 sites announced so far this year to help close not-spots across the UK.

With £500 million in funding now available, the government and the MNOs remain confident that combined coverage will be delivered to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025, with areas around the UK starting to see improvements to 4G coverage long before completion.

The measure has been developed in compliance with the UK’s subsidy obligations under the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement, including the publication of a transparency notice. The Shared Rural Network notice sets out how the programme will pursue better coverage to remedy market failures in a proportionate way, and how the subsidy will mitigate any negative effects to EU–UK trade and investment.

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