It has been interesting to read of the potential bid by British Telecom for EE, or O2, or both networks in the UK. I was also interested to see EE might undertake a counter bid for the O2 network. Regardless of who acquires whom two things we can be sure of. (1) There will always be consolidation and (2) rural customers will suffer.
Now I am assuming most of you will agree with number (1) but many of you might question the accuracy of number (2). Let me explain my logic, based purely on a single data-point the Suffolk household, based in the rural backwaters of a national park in the middle of England.
In the olden times, mobile broadband and telephony was good in the hills. Those signal strength bars where hopping around as if they were on steroids; O2 was good mainly outdoors; Orange was great and T-mobile more than delightful. Mobile broadband on Orange was a healthy 5mb. Vodafone not so good – you had to walk up the hillside and wait for the wind to blow in the right direction. None of the online maps represented any reality of coverage.
Then came the announced creation of EE, the networks started to intermingle and my wife on Orange and me on T-mobile, given the sad people we are, would stand and watch our phones happily roaming onto the other network.
Then the dreaded "optimisation" phase kicked in. For optimisation read cost cutting, read screwing existing customers, read going from three networks to none. The best we can get now is GPRS. No 3G which we had before, no mobile broadband – zip, nothing, de nada.
Customer service was fab…not. "We have taken down one mast" they would joyously tell us. "We are rebuilding the mast we have taken down" they would say to qualm our annoyance. "We have turned down the power on the remaining mast" they would say when they were being honest. "We will send you a femto cell" or "we can't send you a femto cell it doesn't work" to the many calls to them over the last twelve months.
Now we stand in the kitchen looking at our phones, like people stranded on a deserted island hoping for signs of rescue – a bar or two, the magical letters 3G….sadly my beard is longer, my legs and belly thinner (that's a complete lie), but still stranded.
Now the regulator Ofcom is useless. They have no interest in the consumer they positively and joyously promote optimisation, but more disappointingly block you doing anything about it. I am more than happy to build my own repeater station on the hill – but alas that is against the law as set by the regulator.
We demand Governments give more power to our masts so our signals are strong and give us the ability to take our lovely mobile signals in our own hands. Allow us to build repeaters in our villages, on our hillsides and on our rooftops.
We demand Governments force operators to protect rural networks, protect us digitally disadvantaged waifs by blocking the dreaded "optimisation" cost cutting. A rural network should never be reduced it should be increased at the same rate as metropolitan and city networks.
And what would be a cute idea is that masts et el become property of the people once installed and you need to get users permission before you downgrade a service. Call it an extension to local loop unbundling, but this time it is the end-user who is involved.
It won't happen of course so we will stand and stare at the dreaded GPRS signal on our phones looking back with fond memories to a time before mergers and acquisitions and the dreaded "optimisation".