Ofcom plans tougher mobile licence requirements in bid to boost rural access

Ofcom pledged to beef up regulations covering UK mobile operators to improve rural coverage, and reiterated its goal of ensuring 98 per cent of homes and business can receive indoor 4G access in 2017.

The UK regulator said it plans to add new obligations into future spectrum licences to improve rural access to mobile services, as part of moves to address broader concerns over the availability of mobile and broadband access outside of urban areas.

Ofcom announced the move in its initial conclusions as part of a strategic review of digital communications in the UK, a once in a decade update of rules covering fixed and mobile communications in the market.

In a statement, the regulator also said it plans to introduce an "accurate and easy-to-use" system detailing the coverage offered by mobile operators. Ofcom said they system "will place further pressure on mobile network operators to improve coverage." A postcode-based map of mobile coverage introduced by Ofcom in 2015 will be extended to broadband services, and Ofcom additionally plans to improve both services by enabling consumers to search for data covering individual addresses.

The initial conclusions of Ofcom's strategic review also outlined new rules for Openreach, the infrastructure arm of BT, including requirements for the business to offer equal wholesale access to all of its customers, and enable rival operators to access its telegraph poles and fibre ducts.

Ofcom's announcement eases pressure on BT, which has recently faced calls from its competitors to spin off the Openreach business.

BT completed a move back into the mobile market in January, when it finalised an acquisition of EE from former joint venture partners Orange and Deutsche Telekom.

EE will become part of a new BT business unit -- BT Business and Public Sector -- which is one of six new business lines announced by BT following the close of the acquisition. The mobile operator's wholesale operations will become part of BT Wholesale and Ventures as part of the new structure.

For more:
- see this Ofcom announcement

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