Delays to the UK's 4G spectrum auction will cause further damage to rural communities across the UK, it has been claimed.
Conservative backbencher Rory Stewart has called on Ofcom to press ahead with the 800MHz and 2.6GHz radio spectrum auctions, which were recently put back amid the threat of legal action from some 3G mobile broadband providers.
The MP for Penrith and the Borders claimed the UK economy is missing out on billions of pounds worth of tax revenue from small village and community businesses due to the lack of rural broadband access.
Launching the second phase of the Rural Broadband Working Group’s initiative in his constituency, Mr Stewart said improved mobile broadband access can reap various socio-economic benefits.
He claimed that six million UK villagers - who live in areas where it is not economically viable to rollout fixed broadband services - could take advantage of high-speed web services using mobile devices.
This theory is being tested in the Cumbrian village of Kaber, where residents are being given a year’s free mobile broadband access to use with laptops and other internet-connected devices.
Participants will be given either a mobile broadband dongle or one of Three’s Mi-Fi units which creates a personal Wi-Fi hotspot.
The village hall is also being given a Mi-Fi unit, to provide communal mobile broadband access in the heart of the community.
Mr Stewart said the spectrum auction is Ofcom's last chance in a generation to give rural communities the help they need in getting access to broadband.
"We must make sure rural communities are not let down when it comes to accessing 4G or LTE services," he stated.
The MP said millions of people will be left isolated if Ofcom does not get the auction process right.
This means ensuring there is a minimum coverage commitment in the auction structure to guarantee operators deliver mobile broadband coverage to outlying areas of the country, Mr Stewart added.
"This auction must not be about Ofcom getting a quick and easy lump sum off the operators bidding for the rights to use this spectrum," he stated.
"It must be about Ofcom securing the future of rural communities, securing these communities’ access to mobile broadband coverage, and ensuring that the people living, working and learning in these areas can access all the benefits of broadband."
Dave Dyson, Chief Executive of Three, claimed that mobile can give thousands more rural communities essential access to broadband.
"For many without a fixed-line service, it will continue to be the only way they can affordably get online and reap the benefits that access brings," he said.
“But next year’s spectrum auction is going to be vital in bringing that option to even more of those currently without a decent mobile signal."
Mr Dyson said that if, after the auction next year, Three is able to use some of the sub-1Ghz spectrum for mobile broadband services, it could instantly extend its coverage to 98 per cent of the UK population.