Documents to download

The Access to Telecommunications Networks Bill is a Private Members’ Bill introduced by Helen Morgan MP. It had its first reading on 11 December 2023. Second reading is scheduled for 26 January 2024.

What does the Bill aim to do?

The Bill would require mobile network operators (MNOs) to share their network infrastructure with each other where doing so would ensure “consistent network coverage”. It would also “incentivise” MNOs to allow customers to roam onto another MNO’s network in areas where their ‘home’ network does not provide coverage. This is known as ‘rural roaming’.

These measures are intended to tackle partial not-spots (areas that receive coverage from at least one MNO but not all four).

What is mobile coverage like in the UK today?

Figures from the telecoms regulator Ofcom indicate that 22% of the UK’s geographic area receives coverage from at least one MNO, but not all four. The rate is higher in rural areas, where there is less commercial incentive for building new network infrastructure.

What is the government’s approach to improving mobile coverage?

The government’s main policy for tackling 4G partial not-spots is the Shared Rural Network (SRN) which was agreed with the industry in March 2020. Under the deal, MNOs have committed to spending £500 million on new shared infrastructure to reduce partial not-spots. The government will spend a further £500 million on new infrastructure in total not-spots (areas where there is no coverage from any MNO).

The SRN aims to increase 4G mobile coverage from all MNOs to 84% of the UK landmass, and coverage from at least one MNO to 95%. As of September 2023, these figures were 71% and 93% respectively.

Has rural roaming been considered in the past?

Rural roaming has been put forward by rural stakeholders as an option for rapidly improving mobile coverage. However, the industry has historically been opposed to the idea, citing technical challenges and concerns about the impact on investment and competition.

Ofcom looked at rural roaming in its 2018 advice to the government on mobile coverage. It said that rural roaming was a “credible” solution. However, Ofcom concluded that because of the need to overcome technical challenges the best way of introducing rural roaming would be with the consent of the industry, which it said was unlikely to be forthcoming.

The government says that it is focused on improving rural mobile coverage through the SRN.

Documents to download

Related posts