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Government 'threatened' UK network operators into taking action on mobile 'not-spots'

Wednesday, February 4th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The deal to cut not-spots that have been plaguing mobile users across the country would “probably not” have come about if the government had not threatened mobile operators, the head of an influential committee of MPs has said.

John Whittingdale, who chairs the commons culture, media and sport committee, said operators had only agreed to the £5bn investment in mobile infrastructure to cut not-spots because they were threatened with national roaming.

Not-spots are areas where there is no mobile coverage by any operator, making it impossible for users to get a signal.

Much of the country is also blighted by 'partial not-spots', where there is some coverage, but not from all networks, leaving many customers frustrated at being unable to use their mobiles in certain areas.

A potential solution of national roaming – where a user can move on to another network if their own is not available – was opposed by the industry, and in December the government announced a deal with Vodafone, O2, Three and EE that will see the four operators invest £5bn over the next three years.

It is hoped that the deal will improve mobile coverage for customers across the UK, cutting partial not-spots by half and total not-spots by two thirds.

Labour has claimed that the landmark agreement is already falling apart, with promises being reneged on, but the government has this week announced that the deal, which will improve mobile coverage for people across the UK, has been finalised.

Threatened

Speaking to Cable.co.uk at a Let’s Go Connected event about digital content in London, Mr Whittingdale said it was unlikely that mobile operators would have come up with the idea to invest more money in infrastructure if they had not been threatened with national roaming.

Before the deal was struck, culture secretary Sajid Javid had revealed that he favoured national roaming as a possible answer and was considering pushing ahead with it if no other solution was offered.

Mr Whittingdale (Con – Maldon) said: “The government called them in, the government threatened them with national roaming.

“They were very strongly opposed to national roaming but they came up with an alternative, which was a substantial investment to deal with not-spots.

“If the government hadn't threatened them with national roaming would they have ever come up with that? Probably not.”

He said that some people are debating the rollout of 4G across the UK, but in some areas people still cannot even get 2G or 3G coverage.

“The not-spot issue is one that the Secretary of State highlighted and has put a lot of pressure on the mobile operators to address."

Mr Whittingdale said, while things like online content and the way it is distributed are moving forwards, those who cannot even get a mobile phone signal are left frustrated by poor mobile infrastructure.

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