Silly Season has started early. The Times reports that the Prime Minister is backing a plan to force operators to UK customers to roam between networks in the UK.
This means that network subscribers who lose their signal while in the boondocks could piggyback onto the signal of another network. Supposing there is one.
The brainwave comes from Culture Minister Sajid Javid - purportedly one of the Tories’ best business “brains” and “a future Prime Minister” - following reports that David Cameron repeatedly lost his signal while visiting Norfolk. The plan has obvious populist appeal to the Conservatives' rural (and Scottish and Welsh) electorate, but the drawbacks should be equally apparent.
Mandatory roaming would reward operators who invested the least in their own rural networks, and increase intra-company haggling. It introduces an incentive to “do a Netflix” and lobby regulators rather than invest in their own capacity and backhaul. Why spend precious cash on your own transmitters when (like Netflix, too) you can then complain about “neutrality”?
The UK already subsidises bumpkin mobile under its £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project or MIP, by which it buys land and pays for the kit.
The Times reports that Javid’s predecessor Maria Miller considered the proposal but kicked it into touch. The US regulator obliges operators to raise a levy from customers for rural coverage that’s clearly visible on all bills, and raises around $5bn. It’s not without its critics, who argue that the money goes straight to the operator and doesn’t get spent on rural infrastructure. ®