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Lord Vaizey’s Comical Anecdote for Poor Rural UK Mobile Cover

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 1,296
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The UK’s former Culture and Digital Minister (2010 – 2016), Lord Vaizey of Didcot, gave his Maiden Speech this week in the House of Lords, during a debate on the new Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill. As part of that he included an amusing anecdote about the impact of his earlier inability to solve rural mobile coverage.

During his time as an MP Ed Vaizey was arguably responsible for much of the original Broadband Delivery UK programme (known today as Building Digital UK) and began establishing the country’s gigabit ambitions long before the current lot of MPs, at least he did until being sacked in 2016 when Theresay May came to power as Prime Minister (you know.. back when Digital Ministers lasted longer than a few months).

One of Ed’s somewhat less successful programmes was the £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP), which aimed to extend mobile coverage (mostly 4G) to around 60,000 notspot premises across the United Kingdom (originally it intended to go further than this, but reality soon had its way).

Sadly, the MIP ended up being bogged down by a mix of very familiar problems, from delays in getting planning permission (e.g. communities protested the new masts), to challenges with securing wayleave agreements from landowners and the difficulty of securing data or power supplies for such remote masts, among other things (many of these issues continue to hamper similar programs today).

In the end the MIP only delivered on a small slice of the programme’s original ambition, although to his credit Vaizey did apologise (here). Interestingly this topic came up again as part of his maiden speech as a Lord and we felt as if the comical anecdote needed to be shared.

Lord Vaizey of Didcot said:

“In any event, I was lucky enough to serve for six years as the Minister for culture and technology in the other place [House of Commons], and those are the subjects on which I hope to bore your Lordships on regular occasions. I do not know how attentively you will listen to me, because I am not sure how good I was at my job. I was, for example, the Minister responsible for rural mobile broadband coverage. I remember—and maybe the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, will recall—the day I was sacked by the new Prime Minister Theresa May.

I do not know if there are any sackees in the Chamber at the moment, but you get a call from Downing Street; I was in my car, and Downing Street said, “The Prime Minister will call you in 15 minutes”. As I drove off through the rural hinterland of Oxfordshire, I realised that I had lost my mobile phone signal. It took the Prime Minister half an hour to get through to me, and I was a Minister for 15 minutes longer thanks to the lamentable job I had done in the previous six years.”

In fairness Scotland’s £25m 4G Infill Programme has experienced some of the same problems as the MIP did and there’s a concern that the UK’s new £1bn (public and private investment) Shared Rural Network (here), which aims to extend geographic 4G mobile cover to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025, may be at risk of the same. However, the Government are moving to try and tackle this with new legislation (here).

Leave a Comment
16 Responses
  1. Avatar joe says:

    Mark,

    Please ‘Ed Vaizey’ or ‘Lord Vaizey…’ not the nonsense of Lord Ed Vaizey.

    The Shared Rural Network still feels like no one is driving this forward. And if they don’t if will miss its targets for sure…

    1. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

      Already missed it.

    2. Avatar joe says:

      its not 2025 yet

    3. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

      Not gonna happen.

  2. Avatar Walter G. M. Willcox says:

    Recognition of the shortcomings of rural 4G must surely become far worse with 5G at least rurally.

    1. Avatar buggerlugz says:

      Shortcoming of 4g in the UK is it not being implemented correctly from the start.

  3. Avatar NGA for all says:

    MIP was a panic reaction to Parliaments call for a 98% coverage obligation. There was a panic on the possible impact on auction yield in Ofcom and out popped the MIP idea based on ‘voice’.

    His evidence to the CMS Inquiry into Broadband in 2016 was pretty shocking. His claims on BT’s capital payments had to reversed by Matt Hancock. WPQ47312 was one of several written Parliamentary questions used to unwind his inattention to detail so the monies owed could be preserved. Capital Deferral subsequently grew to £788m.

    The 2012 request for 98% 4G coverage by Parliament was diminished to 95% by nation by Ofcom on his watch.

    The call for B-USO of 10Mbps started in November 2015, while he seemed unaware of the accumulating capital deferral in BT’s accounts which was first acknowledged in June 2015 on £130m. B-USO will remain an act of folly.

    On his sacking. Recorded in Tim Shipman’s Book all out War, p526 .. She (MAY) also used the opportunity to take a swipe at Vaizey, making a remark about the rollout of rural broadband services as an example of a policy where there might have been more attention to detail.

    They also managed to send BT CEO to the Lords and act as minister of inward investment while after 2016 inquiry BT was further split because of BT’s lack of investment.

  4. Avatar Mark says:

    And here is why it won’t work, near me 500 signatures and MP involved, a mast would benefit thousands of population here, but the vocal minority will probably win through.
    https://www.stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk/news/18688177.blunder-means-rejected-vodafone-mast-will-built-beauty-spot-near-stroud/

  5. Avatar Gary says:

    Hilarious, How we laughed as we tried to phone an Ambulance with no mobile phone signal, haw haw.

  6. Avatar Outsideye says:

    With USO provided by 4G, the telephone lines are removed. When the 4G mast goes down – no phone to call for emergencies. Can your heart attack wait 10 mins while I jump in the car and drive up the road?

    1. Avatar Mark says:

      With communities continually objecting and stopping masts they’ll be no USO through 4G in a lot of areas, the MIP problems won’t go away!

  7. Avatar Nick Roberts says:

    Number of cars on-the-road in the UK = 32.5 million, square area of the UK a quarter of a million square kilometers, therefore, 130 cars per square kilometer, on average and when not-in-use they are usually parked-up in places of habitation . . . and with more now working from home . . . So, all new cars to be fitted with a side order of publicly accessible 2-5g repeaters on their Din Units in the same way that BT Hubs function, supplemented by a few repeaters on existing telegraph poles and lampposts and perhaps the odd aerial and shipping orbiting repeater drone.
    I’d like to see them taking on the car lobby, or uprooting existing TPs or LPs.

  8. Avatar Nick Roberts says:

    Relative of mine on holiday in Cornwall couldn’t get a signal anywhere . . other than the beach.
    PBL = Poor Blo*dy Locals.

  9. Avatar Nick Roberts says:

    Shades of the 1960s . . . .pirate offshore repeaters.

  10. Avatar chris conder says:

    Ed’s a lovely chap. Good speaker. Sense of humour even at his own expense. But totally effin useless at sorting out rural broadband. As every minister seems to be. Vital vision project really scuppered things.

  11. Avatar bc1 says:

    seriously he was made a lord?!

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