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Mobile Operators Face Huge Fines if they Fail UK Coverage Target

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019 (4:56 pm) - Score 1,122

The Government’s Culture Secretary, Nicky Morgan MP, has revealed that Mobile Network Operators (Three UK, Vodafone, O2 and EE / BT) could face huge fines – worth up to 10% of their annual turnover – if they fail to meet their new 4G / 5G geographic UK coverage obligations by 2026.

Last week the Government announced a new £1bn industry led Shared Rural Network (SRN), which replaces the old regulated proposal (i.e. attaching a coverage obligation to the auction of the 700MHz band) with an industry-led sharing of existing masts and new masts in poorly served areas; Ofcom adapted to this change yesterday (here).

Assuming all goes to plan then the SRN should result in each individual operator reaching 92% geographic coverage by 2025, with licence obligations taking effect in 2026. The collective effect of this will deliver coverage to 95% of the UK.

At the time the Government said that mobile operators had agreed to adopt new, “legally-binding licence conditions“, although until now it was unclear precisely what those conditions would impose for operators that fail to meet the coverage targets.

Nicky Morgan MP said:

“The announcement is great news for consumers and a big step forward by the mobile network operators. It will be underpinned by legally binding commitments from each operator to reach more than 92% UK coverage by 2026. The mobile network operators will adopt new coverage obligations within their existing spectrum licence conditions to ensure that the outcomes will be delivered.

If they cannot demonstrate that all reasonable efforts have been made to comply with the obligations, there are penalties for the operators, with a maximum fine of up to 10% of annual turnover. Although 2025 is the target date, many consumers will feel the benefit of the programme long before its conclusion.

Annual coverage improvement targets will be published, and Ofcom will report regularly on the shared rural network’s progress in its “Connected Nations” publication.”

The reference to “all reasonable efforts” does however create a potential get-out clause, not least since it’s possible that objections by local campaigners / councillors to new masts or unavoidable problems with wayleaves may yet get in the way of progress. Much of this may thus end up depending upon the Government’s current consultation on mobile related planning reform (here).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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6 Responses
  1. Avatar M

    Isn’t it a bit silly to say that this is “great news for consumers”. It is great news really — in principle. However, these “huge fines” could just be passed on to customers. Is there a rule to prevent them from doing this?

  2. Avatar Apolloa

    Good! Although I don’t know of any time when government has enforced this 10% of annual turnover law on anyone, and it does exist for multiple laws across different industry. But at least they’ve out there money where their mouth is.

  3. Avatar NGA for all

    The 2012 4G indoor coverage obligation of 98% was defeated by Ofcom reducing it to 95% by devolved nation, and a measuring process that ended in rural where 6 out of 10 properties could not receive the min of 2Mbps indoors.

    Unless the measuring process is dedicated to rural as per the EFRA definitions this is likely to fail again.

  4. Avatar gerarda

    Is there any definition of coverage? Will it take into account real world conditions or will it follow Ofcom’s current definition that appears to consider getting a one bar signal on the rare occasions there is the right combination of wind, tide and atmospheric pressure is good coverage

  5. Avatar Brian

    Just what I was thinking, real or calculated(estimated) coverage, as locally there is a huge yawning gap, with large amounts of variability.

  6. Avatar CJ

    Financial penalties make sense because they address one of the root causes of the coverage problem ie. lack of investment rather than access to sites.

    Just looking at Three’s coverage maps for East Anglia and flipping between 3G and 4G, it’s immediately obvious they have plenty of MBNL 3G sites but have only upgraded a minority of them to 4G. That can only be for financial reasons. Consequently their 4G network is much less dense than their 3G one and relies on 5MHz of Band 20 spectrum to fill the large gaps, which is enough to light up the 4G indicator on people’s phones and allow ‘Supervoice’ calls and texts, but not much else.

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