Comment: Mobile industry urges political parties to prioritise planning reform ahead of the General Election

By Mobile UK’s Director of Policy and Communications Gareth Elliott

The mobile networks are the backbone of everything we do, connecting individuals and businesses, powering innovation, and driving economic growth.

Yet, despite its importance, the rollout of new and improved mobile networks faces several hurdles. Ahead of the General Election, it is welcome that their focus is economic growth, but in order to achieve this, they must prioritise mobile networks in their policy planning.

We have already heard some positives from all the parties on issues such as planning and references to 5G, but they can go further. Digital networks are not just another pillar of a suite of policies but a foundation for all.

Equally, the UK competes on a global scale, and getting the investment environment right is important to ensure that the country can attract the investment needed to deploy world-class connectivity.

To unlock the full potential of mobile connectivity and bridge the digital divide, we need a positive investment environment.

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Here’s how:

Overhaul the planning system and speed up the planning process

The current planning system for mobile infrastructure is not fit for purpose.

Properly funding the system will help streamline the process, focus policy, raise awareness, and ensure the right skills enter and are retained in the service.

This will ensure that our mobile networks keep pace with technological advancements and support economic activities that rely on high-speed connectivity.

Reform the radio spectrum tax so that operators can invest back in the nation’s networks

The radio spectrum tax, a levy charged on mobile operators for using the radio spectrum, acts as a disincentive for investment. Reforming this tax could allow operators to retain more revenue, which they could then channel back into expanding network capacity and coverage.

This would directly benefit users through faster speeds, wider coverage, and a more reliable connection.

Centrally fund local digital champions

Local authorities have a crucial role to play in digitising public services and encouraging the rollout of digital infrastructure.

By centrally funding Digital Champions within these authorities, we can equip them with the resources and expertise to effectively promote mobile network development and ensure the social and economic benefits are fully understood within policy and planning priorities.

This will lead to a more coordinated approach and a smoother rollout process across the country.

Unleash innovation through the reform of traffic management regulations

Current network traffic management regulations hinder innovation in services and tariffs. Reforming these regulations to be more flexible could allow mobile operators to introduce new and exciting offerings to their customers.

This could be anything from innovative data plans to specialised network packages for businesses. Ultimately, these changes would benefit users with a wider range of choices and potentially more competitive pricing.

Business-friendly incentives such as business rates relief

Building new mobile infrastructure requires significant investment. Offering relief to business rates on this infrastructure would incentivise companies to invest in its construction.

This not only benefits the companies themselves but also fosters greater digital inclusion by encouraging the expansion of mobile networks into underserved areas.

By making it financially viable to build in these areas, we can ensure everyone has access to the transformative power of mobile connectivity.