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Connectivity / MP disappointed after rural mobile coverage survey fails to attract isles’ views

Coverage from at least one mobile provider is due to rise from 73 per cent to 91 per cent. Photo: Shetland News

A GOVERNMENT survey on rural mobile coverage in the UK has been criticised after it received no responses from anyone in Shetland.

A total of 981 people living and/or working in rural areas across the UK responded to the survey – but only 24 came from Scotland.

And none of those appeared to come from Shetland or Orkney – two areas at the furthest flung reaches of the country where limited mobile service and blackspots exist.

Local MP Alistair Carmichael this was “hard to fathom, given our clear interest in the issue”.

The survey had been organised by Building Digital UK, which is part of the UK Government’s department for digital, culture, media and sport.

It was intended to explore rural residents’ experiences with mobile coverage.

The plan was to gain a better understanding of how the proposed £1 billion Shared Rural Network programme will benefit communities.

The scheme will see providers EE, O2, Three and Vodafone build and upgrade masts to end partial ‘not-spots’ where only some operators provide 4G – while total not-spots will also be targeted.

Figures from last year show that in the Highlands and Islands coverage from all mobile network operators is set to rise from 26 per cent to 68 per cent through the project.

Coverage from at least one is due to rise from 73 per cent to 91 per cent.

It is understood that Scotland will benefit the most out of the four UK nations from the initiative as the majority of UK Government funding will be spent there.

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The survey results highlighted that increased mobile coverage is beneficial for work and increased productivity, whilst it also reduces the “digital divide”.

Building Digital UK said to increase participation in certain regions it posted an invitation to the study on social media – as well as local forum Shetlink.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael. Photo: Shetland News

It also reached out to individuals in areas with low response rates, but in the end the vast majority of submissions came from the south of England.

Carmichael said improving connectivity for rural and island communities has “always seemed to me to be a no-brainer”.

But he said if the government feels it has to make the case for upgrading mobile coverage through research, “it would help to talk to a few more people in the areas with the most pressing needs”.

“I am certain that there are people in Oxfordshire who care greatly about mobile coverage but I do not believe that they can necessarily speak to all the needs in all corners of the UK,” the Liberal Democrat MP added.

“This is not rocket science. If they had really wanted islanders to be part of the research then they could very easily have contacted my office or local press for support in getting the word out.

“Either the survey was important enough to merit some effort or it was simply a box-ticking exercise – in which case we have to ask why they bothered at all.”

In response a UK Government spokesperson said: “The purpose of this UK-wide survey was to explore the benefits of better mobile coverage in rural areas generally, rather than focusing on specific locations.

“Scotland will receive more investment in mobile networks than any UK nation as part of our £1 billion Shared Rural Network and we will soon be carrying out further analysis to understand how Scotland could benefit from the scheme, including Shetland.”

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