Mobile network operators such as EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone look set to be given a seven-year break from paying business rates in rural areas in a drive to tackle ‘mobile notspots’.
Leaders of local authorities in North Yorkshire and York have been recommended to approve the National Non Domestic Rate holiday to incentivise mobile infrastructure providers to increase 4G coverage and performance in locations which have not been considered commercially viable.
According to Ofcom, eight of ten people across the countryside do not have access to 4G mobile coverage from all operators and only 18 per cent of people can access 4G coverage in their rural homes and businesses compared to 64 per cent in urban areas.
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Caroline Patmore, county councillor for Stillington division, a rural area north of York, described the rates relief proposal as “marvellous”.
She said: “We do desperately need this service for the emergency services as well as for businesses and residents.”
While there is no mobile coverage in some areas of the county, many “not spots” will be addressed by planned work by mobile network operators in conjunction with the planned Emergency Services Network.
The business rates relief move follows the county council securing £1m from the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership earlier this year to improve mobile phone coverage in “not spots”.
However, an officer’s report to a meeting of Local Government North Yorkshire and York says without further intervention the disparity between urban and rural areas could worsen.
The report states performance of the mobile voice network and data
coverage continues to vary across many parts of the area due to the
landscapes, potential number of users and lack of infrastructure.
Business rates are up to 40 per cent of the annual cost of operating a mast, of which there are 450 in the area, generating almost £1m in business rates.
The report states there is a clear gap between the commercial investment plans of the network operators and the ambition of North Yorkshire to improve mobile technology coverage “to tackle disadvantage, poverty, social exclusion, health inequalities, and increase inward investment to stimulate improved economic growth and productivity”.
The document concludes to improve 4G mobile coverage to the national standard it is recognised there would need to be “a significant increase” in the number of mobile masts.
It adds: “Without intervention there is a real risk of the situation worsening as future investment is targeted in urban areas to the detriment of our rural communities. This would in turn adversely affect our competitive edge, and do little to retain an economically active, highly skilled workforce resulting in an imbalanced local economy and demographic which is more reliant, in need of care and support than delivering growth and economic prosperity.”
Over the seven years the rates relief would cost the public purse £30,940 for each new mast.
The move would mirror one made by the Scottish Government, which has introduced the rates relief on all new mobile infrastructure.