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‘Mobile not-spots’ and broadband availability high on agenda at FUW meeting

The lack of network coverage in rural Wales was high on the agenda at the Royal Welsh Show yesterday (Tuesday 21 July) when the Farmers’ Union of Wales joined forces with Ofcom at its pavilion alongside the main ring.

fuw and ofcom meeting

(l-r) Vodaphone representative Graham Dunn, O2 representative Paul James, EE representative Alex Jackman, Three representative Justin Kempley, Ofcom regulatory affairs manager Elinor Williams and FUW deputy president Brian Thomas

The lack of network coverage in rural Wales was high on the agenda at the Royal Welsh Show yesterday (Tuesday 21 July) when the Farmers’ Union of Wales joined forces with Ofcom at its pavilion alongside the main ring.

The FUW and Ofcom held wide-ranging talks with farmers and representatives from the communications industry including the mobile network operators – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone to discuss plans for improvement in the rural areas of Wales.

FUW deputy president Brian Thomas, who was delighted that the union was once again hosting this event at the Royal Welsh Show, said: “This is the fifth consecutive year at the show that the FUW has collaborated with Ofcom in providing a platform for discussion on the wide ranging communications issues facing rural Wales.

“A lot of work has been done over the past four years to improve services for mobile phone coverage and broadband access but with ever increasing demands on the farming community to carry out their business duties online more needs to be done to accelerate the process by which these twenty-first century services are readily and reliably available.

“The farming industry, in increasing numbers, is reliant on smart phone technology such as apps and it is second nature for the up-and-coming younger generation to use their phones in innovative ways – so if rural businesses in Wales want to remain at the forefront of progress then more needs to be done to support them.

“Further to this, online IACS, BCSM online and the incoming EID are just a few examples that farmers throughout Wales require reliable and fast internet connections for, which could be accessed through the appropriate mobile phone coverage if no broadband line is available.

“So as a union we cannot stress the fact enough that more needs to be done to help rural communities and farm businesses by providing them with the essentials that every twenty-first century business needs.”

Visitors to the pavilion were interested to hear that the latest statistics by Ofcom show that the availability of 2G and 3G services in homes across Wales has reached 98.9 percent and 97 percent respectively by June this year, whilst the availability of 4G is available in only 62.8 percent of properties, compared to 89.5 percent in the UK and 92.1 percent in England.

But all the figures fall dramatically when measured in geographic availability as opposed to properties. When figures were published October last year they showed that 14 percent of Welsh remote areas didn’t have 2G coverage, 21 percent didn’t have 3G and 37.2 percent didn’t have 4G.

Whilst over the border in England only 4 percent of remote areas didn’t have 2G coverage, 7 percent are without 3G coverage and 10.5 percent are without 4G coverage.

Ofcom regulatory affairs manager Elinor Williams said: “We are becoming increasingly dependent on our mobile devices, however, there are still areas where a lack of network coverage means that making mobile phone calls, sending text messages and accessing data services over a cellular network is not possible.

“Rural Wales has its fair share of ‘not-spots’ and weak spots, areas where there are is no signal at all by either of the phone companies, which present challenges to mobile network operators.

“The UK government recognises these not spots and weak spots and has committed to solve the problem and has set 115 million pounds aside to support the establishment of the infrastructure that is necessary to improve services, whilst the 4 providers (Vodaphone, O2, EE and Three) will be covering the building cost.

“The agricultural sector is being affected more than any other by a lack of mobile phone signal and we take this matter very serious,” she added.

Farmers were pleased to hear that Ofcom takes the matter very serious and the union has long stressed that people are now dependent on their mobile phone as they go about their daily business.

“The agricultural industry is just as reliant on mobile phones as any other industry and if you add tourism to the mix with people on holiday wanting to access their e-mails, share their photos on social media and stay connected to their loved ones it becomes even more vital.

“We were keen to hear that a legal agreement has been reached between the providers to ensure £5 billion are available to spend to improve the mobile phone infrastructure by 2017 and to ensure voice and text service are available by the providers to 90 percent of remote areas in the UK by 2017,” added Mr Thomas.

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