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MP: New bill will give consumers power to leave inadequate mobile providers

Wednesday, February 3rd 2016 by Ellen Branagh

A proposed law forcing mobile operators to give detailed information on their coverage would help consumers make an informed choice when picking their provider, according to a Scottish MP.

Former Lib Dem cabinet member Alistair Carmichael told the Commons that poor mobile connectivity is hampering social and economic development in some of the UK’s “most fragile communities”.

Outlining the purpose of the proposed new Mobile Telecommunications Network Coverage (Contractual Obligations), Mr Carmichael said it would force providers to “spell out” exactly what coverage they provide and where.

The proposal legislation would also allow customers to break contracts if they do not get the service that is advertised.

Mr Carmichael, who is MP for Orkney and Shetland, said he represents many communities that are “always the last to see any improvement” when it comes to connectivity.

“Mobile connectivity has produced a new divide in our communities,” he told MPs.

“We now have a new class of the haves and the have-nots, those who have signal and those who do not.

“Like that other great digital divide, the rollout of superfast broadband, the divide is often between rural and urban communities but it is not always so.

“The service can be just as poor in our towns and cities as in their surrounding areas.”

He said while competition between operators had driven improvements in the past, the market is now dominated by a small number of big players prepared to “settle for what in their view is adequate rather than to strive for what is best”.

'Shangri-La of connectivity'

Mr Carmichael said while a deal between the government and mobile operators to improve coverage meant the “Shangri-La of connectivity” had seemed to be just over the horizon, it now appeared to be “another false dawn”.

“And so in 2016 the problem is just as bad and is showing little sign of improvement.”

Mr Carmichael said the root cause of the problem was the “imbalance of power” between big corporations and the consumer.

“For the consumer, information is power.

“It is to my mind quite remarkable that in a regulated market such as this, mobile phone companies have no obligations to spell out to would-be customers just what coverage they can provide and where they can provide it.

“My bill would place on the mobile phone companies an obligation to give detailed information on coverage to their customers and would allow customers to break their contracts if that service was not then actually provided.

“It would allow us all as consumers to make an informed choice when selecting a service provider.”

He said the bill might reinject competition into the market, driving much-needed improvements, and “at the very least it would ensure that the information that the companies provide reflects the service that they actually provide and not the one that they think they provide”.

Mr Carmichael said the bill would be a “signal” to the mobile operators that customers across the country “need, expect and deserve a better service than the one that they are getting.”

The second reading of the bill is expected to take place on 4 March.

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