We already struggle with mobile phone signals across much of the south of the county. Fast broadband doesn’t get much beyond the towns and larger villages. Now, South Shropshire is set to lose out on improved digital radio reception.

The government has issued plans for upgrading DAB (digital audio broadcasting) transmitters around the country. The idea is that DAB coverage around the country will eventually match that of FM, allowing the government to achieve its long delayed ambition to turn off the FM signal (see this Guardian briefing on DAB).

BBC Radio Shropshire is broadcast over transmitters owned and maintained by Free Radio. Free has no FM repeaters in south Shropshire. This means that the existing FM repeaters that relay BBC Radio Shropshire to the Clee and Ludlow area, and to Clun and southwest Shropshire, will not be replaced or upgraded to deliver DAB under the government’s upgrade plan.

There is however good news in the plans for north and east Shropshire, and for Telford & Wrekin. The Wrekin transmitter will have its power boosted, which will benefit many areas. There are new transmitters in Oswestry and Market Drayton, and at Hazler Hill at Church Stretton, which should give Radio Shropshire coverage for some way along the A49. There are also some improvements on the Black Country side of the area which may help in the east of the county.

It’s always a bit of a challenge living in rural areas. Rural dwellers don’t expect to have all services on their doorstep. If you live out of town, it’s often a good distance to get the newspaper or visit the doctor. That’s why digital communications are important.

Rural communities need to be resilient at a time of service cuts and in a period when the rural population is growing older. To achieve that, we need first class communications to give access to services, health services and shops. Arguably, we need them more than urban areas, where many services are on the doorstep. First class communications are also essential to a thriving, well paid rural economy. If we are to keep young and highly skilled people in South Shropshire, we need the digital technology that is now essential for businesses and for education. And let’s not forget that a lot of social life is digital these days. Digital technology is becoming a potent force in reducing levels of social isolation.

If you listen a lot to local radio, you’ll realise that it also helps reduce isolation and loneliness. TV creates celebrities. People think of local radio presenters as their friends. Local radio also acts an a emergency service in bad weather or a crisis.

That’s why we need superfast broadband, 4G mobile and better DAB coverage across all South Shropshire. The current plans from Shropshire Council and the government doesn’t look like like delivering the coverage we need.

See also: “Fears rural areas won’t get digital radio signal” – Charlotte Barnes on DAB in the Shropshire Star.

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