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Mobile broadband providers could be hit with penalties if they fall short of coverage targets, under new measures proposed by ministers.

The government wants the UK's main mobile network operators - EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone - to be held to account if they fail to provide a mobile signal to 90 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017.

At present, Ofcom is able to remove licences from firms that fall short of the target, as well as begin criminal proceedings.

However, a measure in the Digital Economy Bill states that the watchdog could instead be given the power to fine a provider up to ten per cent of its relevant gross revenue.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Digital and Culture Minister Matt Hancock commented: "In the digital age, getting a mobile signal is not a nice to have but a critical part of modern life.

"It's vital for the economy as well as personal calls, texts and web browsing." 

Mr Hancock insisted that the mobile operators have signed up to "legally binding" obligations to deliver coverage to at least 90 per cent of the country.

As a result, he believes the change in the law will enable the government to "ensure their commitments are delivered".

The move has been welcomed by head of the British Infrastructure Group and former Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

"Now the government proposes giving the regulator this power, we believe it would be important that they are prepared to use it," he said.

Mr Shapps added that his organisation has been "alarmed" by the lack of coverage that remains in some parts of the country, in particular in rural areas.

"If this new move isn’t a success then more radical solutions will be required," he commented.

This comes after research by RootMetrics placed Liverpool at the top of its mobile broadband performance rankings for major UK cities, followed by Belfast and Edinburgh.

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