The news that the government has forced the hand of the UK’s four main mobile networks into investing £5 billion on improving rural coverage is a welcome boost for users.
For months it seemed that the Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, was going to push networks into so–called national roaming in a bid to bring an end to ‘partial not spots’, areas where one network worked but another didn’t.
That would have forced networks to share masts, something they were virulently opposed to.
Those who had invested more than their rivals said it was not fair that the competition could take advantage of their infrastructure without having spent themselves.
Vodafone especially has invested millions.
This latest move appears to be a fair compromise.
£5 billion from Vodafone, O2, EE and Three will go towards offering 90% voice and text coverage from each network by 2017.
Complete coverage, including data, will need to rise by 69% to 85% by the same year.
This is legally enforceable, with Ofcom regulating the deal to ensure that none of the big four renege on their promises.
But it’s hard not to feel that even those planned numbers don’t go far enough.
Complete coverage, in the days of smartphones and constant web access, should be every bit as important as voice and text access, especially for rural businesses.
15% will still miss out, suggesting some places just aren’t worth investing in.
What about the people in those areas, who need access to the mobile web for work or for day–to–day errands?
For all its faults, national roaming has its benefits. End users should not be penalised because of their network’s lack of investment.
It’s absurd that one network can work in one place while another can’t.
That this investment will only see partial not–spots halved and total not–spots cut by two thirds seems pitiful at best.
For that amount of money, they should be dealt with once and for all.
The government should be holding the threat of national roaming over the networks, politics be damned.
If it cared about people in rural areas and the work that they do, then it would surely be keeping that tool in its arsenal in order to keep the networks in check.
After all, they have profit as their prime driving force, not the access their customers rightly expect, no matter the protestations and well–spun statements of their chief executives.
This is a move in the right direction. But surely by 2017, not–spots should be a thing of the past, not something that will need another few years to eradicate completely.