Heavyweight support for campaign launch

No phone signal. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

No phone signal. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Our campaign has already gathered the heavyweight backing of civic and business leaders.Elected councillors and groups representing businesses and consumers across Norfolk, north Suffolk and east Cambridgeshire have given their support to Let's Get Connected.

At present EE and 3 share masts, as do O2 and Vodafone – but that does not mean their service is the same. That must change.

The steering group for the Norfolk Rural Development strategy – a blueprint which will be used to develop programmes to benefit rural businesses and communities – has identified that connectivity is the biggest barrier to the county's growth.

And Norfolk County Council, which is on the brink of bringing in better broadband through a multi-million pound partnership with BT, is already working on the problem of poor connectivity with mobile phones.

It has a working group of councillors who are investigating why there are mobile phone blackspots not just in rural areas, but in towns such as Hunstanton, Diss, Wymondham, Beccles and Sheringham.

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George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'I support this campaign to the hilt. It is vital for all aspects of life, whether for business or pleasure, that people in this county can enjoy the benefits of the modern world.

'I wish the campaign every success.'

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While the government has made £150m available to end what it calls 'not spots' – areas where there is no signal – and a stretch near the A143 from Great Yarmouth to Haverhill has already been earmarked for upgrade, more needs to be done, say leaders.

Liberal Democrat group leader Marie Strong, a member of Norfolk County Council's mobile phone working group, said reception in many parts of her Wells division was 'unacceptable', and questioned whether the £150m national pot for solving 'not spot' problems would be sufficient.

'In any case, Norfolk's problem is a weak signal. And in many respects the task to solve the problem of a week mobile phone signal is going to be far harder than weak broadband – but we will be giving it our best efforts.'

Ed Buscall, chairman of the Country Land and Business Association, said that complaints about poor coverage were 'a constant refrain' at his organisation's meetings.

'We would very much like to see mobile phone coverage improved and thank the EDP for starting the campaign,' he said. 'Missed calls, people not getting through: it all means frustrated potential customers.'

Mr Buscall said better communications were particularly key for the tourism industry, which makes up £2.7bn of East Anglia's £4.4bn tourism contribution to the economy.

'But whether you are in haulage or renewable energy, if you can't get the calls you need you are at a disadvantage,' he added.

The CLA's concerns were echoed by the National Farmers Union, for whose members a mobile phone has become an essential piece of equipment.

Regional spokesman Brian Finnerty said: 'We conducted a survey around the millennium which showed that the most useful invention of the past century for farmers was the mobile phone, and that is even truer today.

'Phones are important so that people can keep up to date and in contact during the long hours in the combine or tractor, but also from a health and safety point of view.

'If you are working far from the home farm you need to be able to call for help, that's where mobile phone reach is key.'

And Stephen Bett, Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner, said the poor coverage meant public safety could be at risk if people were unable to make crucial 999 calls.

He said: 'The campaign has my full support.'

Councillors across Norfolk, north Suffolk and east Cambridgeshire have also pledged their support to our drive for a better deal for phone-users.

Breckland District Council leader Michael Wassell said that, without a signal, a mobile phone was a 'just a paper-weight'.

James Reeder, chairman of Lowestoft and Waveney Chamber of Commerce, said although signals in Lowestoft were fairly good, any improvements for the surrounding towns and villages were to be welcomed.

Trevor Wainwright, leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, also gave his backing to Let's Get Connected, adding: 'I would welcome any improvements in coverage and we support the campaign.'

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