The Countryside Alliance has urged Ofcom to confirm the timetable for the 4G spectrum auction over fears that further delays could mean that rural broadband will not become a reality for at least another six years.
The organisation, which aims to promote interests of rural residents, made the call as mobile operator Three launched a project to provide residents in Kaber, a village in Cumbria, with a year’s free mobile broadband access as part of the Rural Broadband Working Group.
Sarah Lee, head of policy at the Countryside Alliance, said: “Countryside communities are as dependent on broadband as those in urban areas and it is vital that rural communities and businesses have access to effective and affordable broadband if the digital divide is not to grow even wider.
“It is now time for Ofcom to set down a clear timetable for delivery, because if there are any further delays we will not see 4G until 2015 at the earliest in urban areas, which means rural communities will not see any benefits until a number of years later.”
Ofcom is expected to hold the 4G spectrum auction at the end of 2012, following a second consultation on the terms of the auction in January next year. An initial consultation took place in March 2011.
Initially, Ofcom said the auction would take place at the beginning of 2012, with the terms of the auction expected to be published in September. However, it was delayed following the threat of legal action by O2 in June this year, after the network claimed the auction was illegal under EU law.
Ofcom said that regardless of the auction date, the spectrum for 4G services would not be available for use until 2013 – and only in certain areas of the UK at first – as it needs to relocate current users of the spectrum to reduce the levels of interference. It expects the spectrum to become more widely available throughout 2013.
In the first consultation, Ofcom proposed a coverage obligation to be included, which said that the licencee that won the spectrum had to roll out 4G to 95 percent of the UK population, including rural areas of the country.
“We will be revisiting that as part of the second consultation. We are considering an obligation aspect to the auction design,” a spokesperson for Ofcom said.