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EE warns rural 4G rollout could stop if fees rise

EE has warned that it could pull the plug on the rollout of 4G in rural areas if the government continues to raise spectrum fees. 

Chief executive Olaf Swantee said that it could scale back plans for next generation mobile broadband in the countryside if the government continues to put a financial squeeze on operators.

Despite the £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Plan, set up specifically to improve rural coverage, the mobile operator has taken issue with a proposed fourfold increase in the annual spectrum fees operators pay Ofcom. 

We don’t need no fourfold increase: EE wants more incentive to reach out to the sticks

The regulator wants to increase EE’s spectrum rent from £25m to £107m a year. Swantee said the increased sum of money could pay to cover the whole of Wales in superfast mobile broadband. 

The government is also clamping down on the cost of mobile phone contracts. It has put pressure on operators to cap incurred on lost or stolen phones and scrap roaming charges in the EU by 2016. 

Swantee told the Guardian that “something has to give” and added that the current rollout of 4G would be harder to maintain should ministers continue to extract large sums of money from operators. 

“We will be forced to re-evaluate our 98 per cent coverage target for the end of next year and sparsely populated rural areas are, as we all know, at risk the most,” he said. 

He said that his firm wanted to supply broadband to homes in rural parts that BT would find too expensive to lay fibre cables and an increase in fees could hinder such plans. 

The firm has rolled out its 4G network to around 70 per cent of the population to date. 

Image: EE

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