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New law on national roaming to be proposed by UK government

Out-Law News | 03 Nov 2014 | 3:52 pm | 1 min. read

The UK government is expected to propose new laws later this week which would require mobile providers to open up their networks to rivals' customers, according to a Sunday Times report.

The government will turn to legislation to deliver "national roaming", which is a concept that would enable mobile users to connect to alternative networks where their own provider's network coverage is lacking, an unnamed government official told the paper.

"We're keen on a national roaming plan," the official said, according to the Sunday Times report (subscription required). "We've talked to the mobile phone networks and told them to come up with a plan. The secretary of state is pretty frustrated that they have failed to do so. We've given them numerous opportunities to find a solution. The lack of movement from the mobile phone operators means we now need a legislative option to deal with the issue of partial notspots."

In September, it was reported by the Financial Times that the government's national roaming proposals had been rejected by mobile network operators as unworkable.

The Mobile Operators Association (MOA), which represents EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone, told Out-Law.com in the summer that "national roaming isn’t the silver bullet that is being suggested". It said EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone invest £3 billion each year in improving their networks and that coverage currently reaches 99% of the UK population. It said mobile broadband coverage would also improve in rural areas as 4G technology is rolled out.

The MOA said that the implementation of a national roaming scheme would not address all connectivity problems and may threaten investment in better network infrastructure.

"[National roaming] will take years to implement and will not address the problem of ‘not spots’," the MOA told Out-Law.com. "National roaming would be a disincentive to build more infrastructure. And it is technically difficult and expensive to set up national roaming and customers would face more dropped calls."

"There are other, more sensible things the government can do immediately to improve coverage, such as reforming the Electronic Communications Code, and addressing other barriers like the burden of business rates in rural areas, the cost of backhaul and electricity. In the last three years operators have seen a return on capital investment of between 1-2%, considerably less than other UK companies," it said.