Rural businesses being hit by poor coverage in Suffolk

POOR mobile phone coverage in rural Suffolk is putting business at a disadvantage, a new report has found.

The Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) says small businesses are the backbone of the rural economy and need better reception.

That view has been backed by a community-focused Suffolk charity which says it is a ''critical'' matter for small businesses.

Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk Action with Communities in Rural England, said its 2010 survey of more than 300 parish councils and other community groups revealed coverage was ''extremely patchy''.

'I think it's critical for small businesses,' he said. 'If people try to do business they have to be able to be contacted.

'Mobile phone companies need to do a lot more. They profess they have got coverage across the county – that's not true.

'I would like to see us work with various strategic partners to do a proper survey of the county and then to engage with providers and see what the issue is.

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'If it's something we can do locally, well, let's get on and do it.'

Graham Russell, executive director of CRC, said: 'Mobile phone technology – like broadband – is embedded into every aspect of life and has become almost an essential utility for people and for businesses.

'Yet there are rural places which still cannot receive a good mobile phone signal, with significant implications.

'Small businesses are the backbone of the rural economy but they need decent connectivity in order to be accessible to customers and to keep in touch with their offices.

'Employers are cutting costs and increasingly want their employees to work flexibly, including from home, but this can be difficult for people with poor mobile reception.'

Last month Suffolk missed out being included in a pilot scheme to ensure rural areas have higher broadband speeds.

CRC's report highlights several examples in Suffolk where poor coverage has had an impact.

One business says it's is missing out on around �25 of business a day as a result of missing calls.

Meanwhile a home worker says better mobile coverage is needed to allow people to work in rural communities and prevent them from becoming retirement or second-home areas.

Dr Gibson said the social aspect of poor mobile phone coverage – such as trying to get in touch with vulnerable relatives – was often overlooked.

Adele Buckley, secretary of Southwold Chamber of Commerce, said: 'A lot of people now have just got mobile phones and they do away with landline rentals. I think it's these people who really have trouble and elderly people who get mobile phones, thinking it's a safer bet, but then don't get much service or coverage.'

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