I strongly believe that nothing would have a more spectacular effect on the local economy than improving rural communications. I am working closely with the industry, Government and Shropshire Council’s Connecting Shropshire, to improve the actively worsening service that we endure on a daily basis. When I put out a call for people to contact me with their stories about poor mobile and telephone reception, I was inundated with desperate messages detailing a complete absence of coverage in many places right across North Shropshire.
We are placed at an enormous competitive disadvantage by this lack of efficient mobile telephone coverage. As many of you will have experienced yourselves, it is impossible to maintain a signal between the five market towns on any network. Tackling this is vital to the majority of local people who rely on mobile telephones and the internet to carry out many everyday tasks which others elsewhere are able to take for granted. Residents travelling between towns should not have to put up with being cut off and the safety of my constituents should not be compromised by the inability to call for the police, fire service or an ambulance in an emergency.
I am pleased, therefore, that Shropshire Council organised a meeting at the Shirehall last week with Councillors and MPs, hosted by Connecting Shropshire and chaired by Cllr Steve Charmley, which included a coverage update by OFCOM, a progress report from the mobile operators including CTIL (Vodafone and O2) Three and EE (incorporating Orange and T-Mobile) plus a briefing on BT’s backhaul provision.
I stressed the difference between OFCOM’s coverage statistics and the reality experienced by my constituents. We were able to explain that due to the increase in data use and sheer number of phones, the situation locally is getting actively worse. It was agreed that taller masts could provide more coverage and deployment equipment, some of which would require full planning consent. Large, shared masts would provide vastly wider coverage of 162Sq km. It is vital that all of these organisations work together effectively to achieve the results my constituents expect in exchange for the money they pay out on their mobile phone contracts.
Getting all four operators to work with Shropshire Council on improved masts is key. I agreed to write to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport about a number of technical issues proposed by the companies.
I have been impressed by the determination of everyone involved to get this matter resolved. It is simply unacceptable that in 2016 Shropshire's communication are unable to keep up with much of the rest of the country. We agreed to meet again on 22 April.