The "Make the air fair" campaign is calling for reliable coverage and a "genuine choice of affordable and high quality mobile services" throughout the UK. The campaign is concerned smaller mobile networks are being crowded out of the market, meaning "less choice for consumers, worse network coverage, more blackspots, more complaints and higher prices".
Access to high-quality mobile phone services is essential. As well as helping people to interact it is also key for the economy and public services. I would like to see mobile connectivity improve and I agree that the mobile market should be fair and competitive.
Customer choice and reliable coverage should be available everywhere in the UK. Unfortunately many people in rural areas still have little or no coverage.
As you know, Ofcom recently consulted on the release of the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands of the mobile spectrum. I am aware that several organisations, including ‘Make the Air Fair’, are calling for a cap of 30% spectrum ownership for any one network operator.
This band of spectrum is one of our most significant public assets. How it is auctioned and regulated are issues of critical importance to the economy.
On 22 February, the House of Lords debated an Opposition amendment to the Digital Economy Bill that would give Ofcom the power to impose caps on licenses where the applicant owns more than 30% of the total useable mobile phone spectrum in the UK and where Ofcom believed this could damage competition. However, this amendment was not accepted.
I am concerned that the Government has failed to foster a competitive communications market. More competition means better service, more investment and lower prices; and Ofcom should be supported to make sure that happens. Licensing conditions for the spectrum auction must be ambitious and tough. I believe these auctions should benefit everyone through better coverage and contribute to our digital economy, rather than simply raising revenue or providing benefit to the mobile network operators.
I will follow developments on this issue closely and I can assure you that I will continue to press for improved communications infrastructure and mobile network coverage in all areas of the UK.