Minister pledges to improve mobile phone coverage for rural areas

File photo dated 28/04/14 of Culture Secretary Sajid Javid who has said that Labour have not "learnt

File photo dated 28/04/14 of Culture Secretary Sajid Javid who has said that Labour have not "learnt their lesson" on the deficit and he claimed "spending and borrowing run through Labour like the words in a stick of rock". PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday August 6, 2014. See PA story POLITICS Javid. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A pledge by a government minister that mobile phone companies will have to ensure better mobile phone coverage in rural areas has met a mixed response in Norfolk.

Culture secretary Sajid Javid told delegates at the Conservative conference in Birmingham it was not good enough that large areas of the countryside still receive poor mobile phone signal, and he would make network operators improve it. Under his plans, mobile phone firms will be forced to allow customers to swap freely between rival networks – like roaming between networks when abroad – unless they can end blackspots.

The proposed scheme comes after the EDP last year launched a campaign called 'Let's Get Connected' for better mobile phone and broadband coverage in Norfolk and Suffolk which gained widespread support.

Mr Javid's plans have been welcomed by some. But George Nobbs, a Labour councillor and leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'I will believe it when I seen it. This is months away from the general election when they have had four and a half years to do something about it.'

The government has already pledged to provide £150m to fund new mobile phone masts providing coverage to the most rural areas.

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But only a small number of masts have so far been built as a result. Jono Read, a spokesman for North Norfolk Labour Party, said the government offered no road map on how this would be resolved. 'For us living in north Norfolk there isn't one particular company that can be proven to offer a reliable signal across the district, and we are also finding those companies like Vodafone the technology is becoming outdated. Too frequently we're finding if one transmitter goes down it is having effects on others around Norfolk.'

But Clarke Willis, chief executive of Anglia Farmers, welcomed the announcement. He said: 'Government and local authority support is vital to any project of this type so it can only be good news that this is being spoken about at the highest level.'

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Mr Willis is one of the partners in an ongoing 'digital divide' campaign which is pushing for government funding to pay for satellite broadband masts.

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