December 18, 2014 / 7:35 AM / 5 years ago

UK says phone firms to spend 5 billion pounds on tackling mobile 'not spots'

A pedestrian talks on the phone as he walks past an EE shop on Oxford Street in London, November 26, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s mobile phone network operators have agreed to spend 5 billion pounds improving basic service coverage in rural areas where consumers cannot get a strong signal, in response to a government pledge to tackle the problem.

Networks EE, owned by Orange (ORAN.PA) and Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE), Telefonica’s (TEF.MC) O2, Vodafone (VOD.L) and Hutchison’s 0013.HK Three will extend guaranteed voice and text coverage to 90 percent of the country by 2017, halving the area affected by patchy coverage, the government said.

The binding agreement takes legislative changes off the table, including a proposal from Culture Secretary Sajid Javid to force operators to share networks, an idea vehemently opposed by the companies that have invested billions of pounds in building infrastructure.

Javid said on Thursday the agreement would result in cutting total “not-spots”, where there is no mobile coverage, by two thirds.

It would also halve the area blighted by patchy coverage, where not all national networks were available, he said.

“Too many parts of the UK regularly suffer from poor mobile coverage leaving them unable to make calls or send texts,” he said in a statement.

“Government and businesses have been clear about the importance of mobile connectivity, and improved coverage, so this legally binding agreement will give the UK the world-class mobile phone coverage it needs and deserves.”

Communications regulator Ofcom will monitor the progress of the companies in extending coverage, the government said.

The increased investment will also be taken into consideration in Ofcom’s revision of the licence fees mobile companies pay to the government for using the radio waves, it added.

Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Mark Potter, Greg Mahlich

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