Welsh landowners could be pushed to install mobile phone masts
A Welsh National Assembly committee has said that landowners should lose subsidies if they refuse to allow the construction of mobile phone masts on their land, along with a raft of other measures designed to boost internet connectivity.
The proposal comes in a new report from the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee that calls on the Welsh Government to implement a number of policies to connect the last 4 per cent of Wales to broadband internet, which it says should be considered an “essential service” like electricity.
Central and Western Wales are some of the most sparsely populated areas in the UK and the report acknowledges that connecting the last 4 per cent will be a much more expensive process than it has been for those already covered.
The committee is also asking the Welsh Government to consider reforming the planning regime to improve mobile phone coverage across the country.
One of the proposals centres on efforts to get operators to work with each other and share infrastructure in poorly covered areas.
Other recommendations include establishing a repayable grant or equity scheme to allow small operators to fill broadband gaps and involving the communities without broadband in the process of finding a solution. It said regulator Ofcom needs to use all its powers to meet its target of 100 per cent mobile coverage, which should be a condition of future auctions of the right to transmit.
Welsh Assembly Member Russell George (Conservative), who chairs the committee, believes connectivity is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ part of daily life.
“For many people and businesses we spoke to during our inquiry, it’s now considered an essential service - like electricity,” he commented.
“Wales’s landscape and population spread poses challenges in a world where market forces determine broadband and mobile phone coverage.
“While the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru broadband scheme, delivered with BT, has connected high numbers of people, there remain pockets it has not be able to reach, and this is echoed with mobile phone coverage.
“Our recommendations will help Wales to develop a digital infrastructure which is as fast and as reliable as other parts of the UK, and is fit for the future.
“Filling in the gaps so that everyone can receive a good service is the minimum requirement. More can be done to help people take up those services once available and to take potentially controversial steps to ensure that the connectivity many of us take for granted is available to all.”
Earlier this month the government announced the trial of gigabit full-fibre networks in six areas around the UK under a new £200m programme.