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Gov urged to extend rural mobe, broadband coverage

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A parliamentary motion urging Ofcom to extend next generation mobile broadband to 98 per cent of the UK received cross-party support during a debate in the House of Commons yesterday.

Tory MP Rory Stewart - who last year got in a spot of bother for describing his Cumbria constituency as partly "primitive" and saying that some locals in the areas wore trousers held up by string - proposed the motion.

During the debate Stewart, speaking on behalf of the backbench business committee, said the communications watchdog should "increase the coverage obligation attached to the 800MHz spectrum licence to 98 per cent".

He also called on the government to fulfil its commitment to provide everyone in the UK with a minimum of 2Mbit/s by 2015.

Communications minister Ed Vaizey attended the debate, forcing him to miss a meeting with the European Commission's culture council in Brussels.

"Our target of having the best superfast broadband in Europe is of course dependent on a range of measures, including choice, coverage, speed and take-up," said Vaizey. "Competition is also very important."

Vaizey added that the government couldn't directly intervene on how broadband is rolled out across the UK.

He said more pilot areas would be announced next week, but admitted the government "will have to say no to a few".

The minister said it would be the last wave of pilots because the delivery plan had been rejigged to be done on a "first-come, first-served basis", which arguably could lead to wrangles among competing councils.

"Any local authority whose bid is not accepted can sit down with Broadband Delivery UK, work through the bid to find out where the gaps are and then come forward again when it is ready," said the minister.

On the spectrum auction, Vaizey said it shouldn't be viewed as a money-making exercise.

"In fact, under European rules, it is not appropriate to auction spectrum simply to raise the maximum revenue possible," he added.

"Ofcom has to take into account a whole range of different factors, including the investment capacity of operators. It must also undertake a cost-benefit analysis of whether the coverage obligations are inappropriately expensive."

A full transcript of the debate can be viewed here. ®

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