RICHMOND MP Rishi Sunak has called on the Government to make sure the taxpayer gets full value from a half billion pound investment in new telecommunications masts.
The Home Office, working with the commercial network operator EE, is building 700 new masts around the UK to provide a new communications network for the emergency services.
As part of the roll-out of the new Emergency Services Network, the Government is directly funding 300 masts in very rural areas to meet the needs of the 999 services and, where possible, to extend commercial mobile phone and 4G broadband coverage.
These masts, some of which are going through the planning process at present, are being built under the Extended Area Service programme.
Last year, the Home Office made it clear to Mr Sunak that the Government-funded masts should be shareable with other network operators apart from EE who might want to use them to improve their coverage in the most remote parts of Britain.
But Vodafone has contacted the Richmond MP suggesting that it is being starved of information about the new masts – nine of which are planned for the MP’s constituency – and has been unable to make decisions on whether to seek mast-sharing opportunities.
Vodafone says that, so far, it has no fixed plans to share any of the masts being built under programme.
Mr Sunak has written to Nick Hurd, the Policing and Fire Minister responsible for the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme, urging the Home Office to publish as much information about the sites.
Specifically, he has asked that the Home Office reveal:
a) the exact locations of each of the proposed sites
b) the proposed timetable for the build of each site
c) the build specification of each site in terms of mast height, transmission and backhaul (connection of the mast to the main network) capabilities
d) how many operators each site is being built to support
e) the commercial arrangements that will be offered to other mobile operators to ensure his constituents will have a choice of mobile provider in these areas
Mr Sunak said the presence of new shareable masts in areas like the Yorkshire Dales was no guarantee that other operators would consider it commercially viable to exercise the option to place their equipment on the masts. However, it was important that they be giving the opportunity to do so.
In his letter to the Minister, Mr Sunak writes: “I am sure you will agree that it is vital that Government uses this one-off opportunity afforded by the ESN roll-out – and particularly by the £500m EAS programme - to improve coverage in the hardest to reach areas in my constituency on all mobile networks.
He adds: “I fully understand that no network operator can be compelled to offer a service if they deem it to be unviable but I do think the Government should do all it can to provide the information as soon as practicably possible so operators can make decisions and the nation gets the best value from this major investment in our communications infrastructure.”
Mr Sunak secured the pledge from the Minister about as many of the new masts as possible being shareable last summer. Since then he was worked with local communities and the planning authorities to ensure the maximum number can be used to improve the mobile phone and 4G coverage in remote parts of the constituency.