Northumberland National Park Authority has welcomed the news that Ofcom has increased the mobile coverage obligation for the UK’s rural areas from 95% to 98% – enabling the use of bandwidth-hungry smartphones and tablets.
In addition, Ofcom has agreed that 4G mobile broadband should prioritise coverage across the existing mobile coverage ‘not spots’ which are all too frequent in rural areas like Northumberland National Park.
The announcement heralds the start of bidding round for 4G licences. It follows a submission made to Ofcom by the National Park Authority in 2011, in conjunction with James Saunby of Grey Sky Consulting, which highlighted that the original 95% coverage scheme would isolate the residents of, and visitors to, the tops of Northumberland’s valleys and the high hills, and the Hadrian’s Wall corridor.
The National Park Authority has a stated commitment to support the improvement of rural infrastructure in its management plan, and the lack of mobile coverage is a recurring complaint by residents and visitors.
Also, the latest visitor survey for Northumberland has highlighted that first time visitors like the security of mobile coverage to be able to access information about opening times, bus timetables, the location of shops and eateries as well as walks and historical and natural information available on the web.
Later in 2012 the authority will create two pilot smart-phone hotspots at Falstone – in the North Tyne near Kielder – and Elsdon in Redesdale, where visitors will be able to scan a quick response (QR) code to download all the information they need for a local visit.
Stuart Evans, Head of Corporate Services for the authority, said: “We’re really pleased that our key points have been taken into account for 4G coverage. Quality mobile broadband will make a lot of difference to everyone, but especially tourism, in this part of the England.
“This announcement should also provide assurance that businesses and residents in difficult to reach rural areas will not be left out in the cold with poor broadband for too much longer.
“We were only able to make such a strong case as a result of good partnership working with the county council, business partners and the responsiveness of our residents who have completed lengthy surveys and provided strong evidence to enable us to best represent their needs.”
4G coverage will roll out between 2012 and 2015. Further details on Northumberland National Park Authority’s case to close the digital divide can be found here.