Which? is calling on the next government to urgently act to improve inadequate mobile and internet connections, as new research reveals that people living in over a third of constituency areas do not have access to decent 4G or broadband services.
New analysis from the consumer champion has found that 236 constituency areas were affected by both patchy 4G coverage and poor broadband services.
The analysis of Ofcom’s Connected Nations data looked at the whole of the UK to see how many areas where a high proportion of properties struggle to get reliable broadband for services like data calls and messages are also affected by poor 4G mobile coverage.
The research found that rural Scotland and Wales bore the brunt of poor broadband and substandard mobile coverage but many constituencies made up of mostly urban areas including parts of Canterbury, Macclesfield, Maidstone, Norfolk, Southampton, Surrey and York were also affected.
Many seaside towns were also plagued by both substandard 4G and poor broadband including Dover, Cleethorpes, Great Yarmouth, Scarborough and Whitby, and Totnes.
Across the home nations, Which? found that Scotland had the lowest levels of access to 4G. The worst affected areas were all in parts of the Highlands and Islands electoral region with Na h-Eileanan an lar the worst overall at only 42 per cent 4G coverage by the four main operators, EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three.
Broadband quality for the area was also poor with only 81 per cent having access to a decent broadband connection.
In Wales, Dwyfor Meirionnydd was the most poorly served. 4G coverage by all four operators was only available to 69 per cent of the premises and only 91 per cent of premises had access to a decent broadband connection.
Northern Ireland was particularly poorly served with many urban areas experiencing levels of 4G coverage comparable with rural areas across the rest of the UK.
Newry and Armagh was worst hit, with access to 4G from all four operators limited to only 82 per cent of premises in the area, while a decent broadband connection was available to 92 per cent of premises in the constituency.
Broadband has become a key issue in this election, with the main parties competing over who can produce the most eye-catching proposal to entice voters.
The Conservative Party has pledged an investment of £5 billion to cover the whole of the UK with “gigabit-capable” broadband services by 2025.
It has also promised to finalise a £1 billion agreement with mobile phone operators to build new phone masts, improving mobile services in hard to reach areas and has committed to spending £5 billion on broadband and helping to reach those in the most remote areas.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has set out their broadband pledge which includes a commitment to invest £20.3 billion into rolling out “full fibre” (FTTP) by 2030, nationalising Openreach (BT) and giving everyone access to free broadband.
The Liberal Democrats have promised to invest in mobile data infrastructure and expand it to cover all homes and install hyper-fast, fibre-optic broadband across the UK.
The Scottish National Party has committed £600 million on the rollout of ‘superfast broadband’ as well as calling for more investment from Westminster and a ‘Shared Rural Network’ to deliver 95 per cent 4G mobile coverage in Scotland.
Which? believes that while broadband is playing a pivotal role in the election, a huge leap is needed to improve connectivity as a whole. The next government must ensure that mobile coverage is brought up to the level consumers deserve.
Without an overarching vision for both fixed and mobile services shared by government, Ofcom and industry, and a cohesive strategy in which roles, responsibilities and timescales are clearly defined, many people will still risk losing out on the benefits of good quality connections.
Caroline Normand, Which? Director of Advocacy, said:
“For far too long, people have felt cut off and struggled to pay bills or receive important calls and messages because of poor mobile and broadband connections.
“The next government must finally deliver the strategy needed to connect the whole of the UK with the comprehensive digital infrastructure that communities urgently need while ensuring that consumers have a choice of providers so that they can see real improvements.”
Notes to editors:
Which? believes the next government should:
Set out an ambitious, joined-up strategy to deliver improved digital infrastructure, meeting the needs of people to be connected at home, at work and on the move.
Set clear connectivity targets for the UK, with a clear roadmap for how and when they will be delivered and clarity on how existing initiatives will interact and work alongside each other.
Improve 4G mobile coverage across the UK, ensuring consumers have access to a sufficient choice of operators, and addressing total and partial not-spots.
Reduce the barriers to speedy and effective broadband roll-out programmes, including a legal requirement for new build homes to be built with gigabit-capable connections and a communications strategy for consumer take-up.
Which? analysed coverage of outdoor premises 4G services as well as whether each constituency had access to all four operators using Ofcom’s 2018 Connected Nations report
For the purpose of this release Which? refers to UK constituencies lacking ‘full’ or ‘comprehensive’ coverage where less than 99 per cent of premises (outdoor) had signal from all four mobile network operators in September 2018.
Broadband quality was measured by the proportion of premises with access to a connection that meets Ofcom’s definition of a decent broadband service (as defined for the broadband Universal Service Obligation – a service that can provide a download speed of 10 Mbps and 1 Mbps upload).
The rural-urban classification of UK constituencies combines two data sources for the UK:
Great Britain classification available here: https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8322
NorthernIreland classification available here: https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/urban-rural-geography-documents-2015
The importance of coverage from all four networks is paramount to ensure consumers have access to coverage wherever they are and have a choice of network operator. Furthermore, other providers ‘piggyback’ on one of these four networks – Tesco Mobile, giffgaff and Sky Mobile use O2, Asda Mobile and Virgin Mobile use EE, TalkTalk and Voxi use Vodafone
Previous Which? analysis found that eight in 10 UK parliamentary constituencies do not have full geographical 4G coverage, and over half (57%) of consumers said at the time that poor mobile coverage had a significant impact on their lives.