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MPs want Blighty to enforce domestic roaming to fix 'not spots'

Don't fence us in, sings British Infrastructure Group

By Richard Chirgwin, 31 Oct 2016

Parliamentary bloc the British Infrastructure Group (BIG) has dropped something of a bombshell, calling for Ofcom to push roaming between mobile carriers.

In a report published here, the Grant Shapps-chaired BIG says the UK's £5 billion agreement with mobile networks, cut in 2014, isn't going to get rid of blackspots by its 2017 deadline.

While it's stopped short of demanding full national roaming for now, the BIG reckons the “not spot” problem is bad enough that users should be able to roam to other networks, and if their mobile coverage at home is inadequate, they should be able to terminate their contracts without penalty.

Tourists to Blighty get better reception, the BIG reckons: “It is absurd that visitors to the UK receive better and broader mobile coverage, because foreign SIM cards enable roaming across national networks.”

With no roaming agreements in place, they say, “on average, British mobile users can only access 4G coverage 53 per cent of the time. Even worse, some mobile operators such as Three only provide 4G coverage to domestic consumers 43.7 per cent of the time, leaving over half of their consumers without high-speed internet coverage.”

The failure of the “not spot” fix program is evident, the report states, because while it had identified 600 locations that needed new mobile towers in 2013, by the end of the 2015-16 financial year only 17 had been built.

Rural areas in the UK are as poorly served as they are pretty much anywhere, with only 28 per cent getting mobile coverage.

The group also wants the government to put the mobile operators on notice that they should provide an update in December about progress towards their stated target of 90 per cent geographic voice coverage.

Operators have predictably pushed back against the BIG proposals. EE told The Guardian the report ignores “advances in mobile coverage since 2014”, while over at the BBC, the operators' lobby Mobile UK said if roaming were enforced, there'd be no incentive for operators to build infrastructure.

Parliament is considering a bill that would give Ofcom the power to fine companies who don't meet their coverage targets. ®

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