By CHRIS HILL
, Rural affairs correspondent
Monday, January 7, 2013
A new drive has been launched to improve Norfolk’s patchy mobile phone coverage by lobbying for a share of a £150m government funding pot.
After successfully campaigning for both public and private investment in internet upgrades, Norfolk County Council’s broadband working group has switched its focus to the mobile network in an effort to resolve the next big infrastructure issue for the county.
A representative from the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) will visit Norfolk on January 21 to discuss what could be possible under the government’s Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP).
The scheme has allocated £150m to improve the coverage and quality of mobile network services across the whole UK in areas of non-existent service.
Those “not spots” have been identified by industry regulator Ofcom using data provided by each of the mobile phone operators.
Funds have already been earmarked for improving the service along the A143 corridor between Great Yarmouth and Haverhill, but councillors hope to make the case for more significant improvements.
Ann Steward, the council’s cabinet member for economic development, said: “A lot of people are very pleased that broadband is coming, but mobile phones are increasingly becoming an issue.
“The world has changed and you cannot exist without your mobile phone now, so we will do everything we can to raise the profile of Norfolk again and the need for investment in the infrastructure Norfolk deserves.
“We have got world class industries here and they need to have mobile services as they are moving about. With the various apps in mobile phones now, people need to use them for whatever business or social need they have.
“I am not going to make any promises. It is early days, but it is great to have him (the DCMS representative) coming to Norfolk and I will be delighted to show him around all the places where he cannot get a mobile phone signal.”
Karen O’Kane, programme director for the Better Broadband for Norfolk project, is using her expertise from the successful internet funding campaign to assist the bid for better mobile coverage.
She said: “The government recognises mobile coverage is a problem, particularly in rural areas, but we have got exactly the same problems that existed with broadband – that there is just not the commercial case for companies to invest.
“We are not talking about 4G, it is about filling holes in the basic mobile phone coverage.
“We know the A143 corridor will be covered, but we are optimistic there could be more for Norfolk.
“Everybody here is just as desperate for mobile as they are for broadband, and I am sure the members of the working group will undoubtedly explain why it is so vitally important for Norfolk.
“The big difference to the broadband project, which had each county deciding what to do and making bids, is that this will be a single national contract.
“Of course, there will still be some convincing to be done, as they have a single pot of money and they will use it where they think there is the most benefit.”