A NEW deal between the country’s biggest mobile network operators and the UK Government aims to bring big improvements to mobile phone coverage across rural Scotland, including Dumfriesshire.
Under the new Shared Rural Network, which is a £1 billion agreement between the UK Government and the country’s biggest mobile network operators, firms will share their masts to boost people’s mobile signals – benefitting areas like rural Scotland in particular.
The news has been welcomed by Dumfriesshire MP David Mundell and constituency MSP Oliver Mundell, who have been long-time campaigners for better mobile signals locally.
David Mundell said: “There have been many false dawns when it comes to boosting mobile coverage locally, and we must certainly hope that this new agreement is the breakthrough we all want to see.
“There’s no doubt that a lack of adequate mobile coverage is a huge issue for many people across rural Dumfriesshire and that’s why Oliver and I have campaigned strongly over many years for improvements.
“Under the existing arrangements, just 55 per cent of the South of Scotland gets mobile coverage from all of the country’s mobile network operators, with 88 per cent getting coverage from only a single provider.
"It is expected that under the new Shared Rural Network (SRN), those coverage figures could rise to see 81 per cent of our area being covered by all the main providers, and 97 per cent of Dumfriesshire getting a signal from at least one operator.
“Given the long-running nature of this issue, I know many local people will rightly only believe it when they see it, and I share that cautious view.
"Having said that, the fact that such an ambitious programme is being put in place, backed up by very significant investment, can only be good news and will hopefully begin to close the ‘digital divide’ which has disadvantaged so many people locally for far too long.”
Oliver Mundell said: “Digital connectivity is still a big challenge for many rural areas and that’s certainly the case here in Dumfriesshire. Getting a decent mobile signal, and also a good broadband connection and speed, is critical, both for the economic prosperity of our communities and also the wellbeing of individuals and families.
“The current situation which leaves many local people in more remote areas with at best no choice between providers, and in too many instances, no signal at all, is clearly unacceptable and I have made repeated representations on this to Ministers at both Westminster and Holyrood.
“I know just how frustrating it is for local people to have to contend with a far inferior service to others living in central belt Scotland, and it’s why the news this week of the setting up of a Shared Rural Network is a welcome step forward.
"We must all hope that it delivers on its expectations and in so doing boost the standard of mobile connectivity across rural Dumfriesshire and the South of Scotland more generally.
"My father and I will be monitoring the rollout of the SRN scheme closely and will continue to make strong representations on the related issue of poor broadband speeds, which also need to be addressed with the same urgency.”