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Not-spot solution a 'stitch-up' between government and mobile networks - Phone Co-op

Monday, December 22nd 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The CEO of The Phone Co-op has described the government’s plan for reducing not spots as a “stitch-up”.

Culture secretary Sajid Javid last week announced a ‘binding agreement’ with Vodafone, O2, Three and EE to improve the UK’s mobile coverage.

The four network operators will invest £5bn over the next three years to cut not-spots by two thirds and provide reliable signal strength on 2G, 3G and 4G.

But The Phone Co-op’s Vivian Woodell told Cable.co.uk: “To say that all four of them will do this, well the fact is they are teaming up together.

“It’s a duopoly of transmitters and effectively they’re being told ‘well as long as you can provide this coverage, we’ll allow you to maintain your duopoly’ and then the government claims credit for having done it, it’s complete nonsense.

“Essentially this is a stitch-up between the big operators and the government where the government is allowed to claim credit for something in return for the operators being able to retain an oligopolistic structure.

“The government takes some of the credit for having increased coverage which actually they were probably doing anyway.

“It leaves them in control of the whole infrastructure right through from service provision through to owning the masts and in a way that gives them exclusive access between the four of them to that.”

A DCMS spokesman said: “The Culture Secretary was determined to tackle partial not-spots and consulted on a range of options, including facilitating the creation of Multi-Operator MVNOs.

“Today's deal delivers a better result to consumers by locking in £5 billion of investment in mobile infrastructure.

“Partial not-spots will be halved and total not-spots will decrease by two-thirds. In addition, consumers will benefit from increased data coverage.”

The government will bring this agreement to the attention of Ofcom in the context of its work to revise Annual Licence Fees – the subscription fee mobile networks pay government.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “UK consumers benefit from one of the most competitive mobile phone markets in Europe.

“Average consumers’ spending on mobile phones has fallen by nearly a quarter between 2003 and 2012, despite usage increasing over this period.”

An O2 spokesman commented: “This mobile phone coverage agreement will deliver better geographic coverage for our customers across the UK, support investment in our network and maintain market competition between the operators, which continues to deliver many customer benefits.”

Jeroen Hoencamp, CEO for Vodafone UK, said: “We support the Government’s objective of delivering better coverage to rural areas including partial not spots.

“This is why Vodafone is already spending £1 billion on our network and services in the UK this year alone and will continue to spend a similar amount next year as well.

“The voluntary industry commitment we have agreed with the Government today will deliver 90% of the UK’s land mass with voice services and a major improvement in mobile internet coverage as well.”

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