DCMS claims ‘breakthrough’ on GBP500m support package for rural mobile coverage

12 Mar 2021

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), claims it has moved a step closer to delivering improved mobile coverage in rural areas, following the publication of its transparency notice for the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme. In publishing the notice in compliance with the UK’s subsidy obligations under the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), DCMS clarified that the document sets out how the programme meets the TCA’s subsidy control principles.

Specifically, the DCMS confirmed its intention to invest GBP500 million (USD698 million) to target hard-to-reach areas where there is currently no coverage from any operator (‘Total Not Spots’, or ‘TNS’). As part of the government-funded element of the programme, the state will also fund upgrades and deployment for all four of the UK’s mobile network operators (MNOs) – EE, O2 UK, Vodafone UK and Three UK – on mobile sites being built to deliver the Home Office’s Emergency Services Network (ESN – Extended Area Service Network) Programme. Further, as part of the public investment in the SRN programme, the DCMS has pledged to grant funding of GBP354 million to Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL), a joint delivery vehicle which the UK’s four MNOs have repurposed to be the recipient of the grant funding and to support the delivery of mobile connectivity in unserved areas. The funding will be used to enable to ‘enable the TNS deployment and purchase of the radio equipment required to upgrade the Home Office sites’; the grant funding period will amount to 20 years, commencing in February 2021, with capital expenditure taking place over a six-year period.