The UK Government’s £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Project has only seen 16 masts installed since it launched – despite its original ambition to cover around 600 sites. Most of the budget remains unspent.
Weaverthorpe in North Yorkshire was the first village to benefit from this project to reduce areas of non-existent mobile coverage, often described as ‘not spots’.
Ed Vaisey MP, the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, admitted “I do not think the programme has been a success”.
He explained that planning regulations and local opposition had caused problems, as had the issue of running costs for the sites. “One difficulty of the programme is that the companies do not want to participate in it - I do not say that pejoratively - because they are landed with the operating costs of the masts. We, the Government, pay the installation costs, but the companies are landed with the operating costs for masts that are, by definition, uneconomic.”
Mr Vaisey added “we have erected 16 of the masts and are hoping to get 60 up and running”.
However, he also pointed out that the 2014 changes to the UK operators’ licence agreements means that geographic coverage will be improved. Combined with the additional sites, this means the percentage of ‘not spots’ (no mobile coverage) across the UK is expected to fall to 2% by the end of 2017.