Mobile phone operators are set to clash with the government over ministerial plans to introduce national roaming across the UK.
They fear that national roaming will be a brake on their investment because there will not be an incentive to build new phone masts in remote areas if the service has to be shared.
The UK's new Culture Secretary Sajid Javid announced government plans for national roaming last week. A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said
"The government has made clear it wants to ensure the UK has world-class mobile phone coverage as part of our investment in infrastructure for the long-term economic plan."
The plans would see mobile phone operators sharing their networks in rural areas of the UK where signals are weak. Some parts of the countryside have just one or two of the main mobile phone networks available, leaving some people without any signal. National roaming would plug the blackspots.
The spokesman said:
"We are investing up to £150m to improve mobile coverage in areas where there is currently no coverage from any of the Mobile Network Operators."
The government's plans are an important move for rural economies looking to diversify using the Internet and online markets. In some parts of Yorkshire, for example, fixed line broadband either does not exist or, where it does, the broadband speed is well below the government's national minimum of just two megabytes. Mobile broadband is the preferred option despite it being more expensive and less robust than fibre optic broadband.
Mobile operator Three insisted it was widening its coverage.
A spokesman said:
"We've invested heavily to bring coverage to around 98% of the population."
"We support the principle of expanding coverage to address areas less well served and are in discussions with government about the most effective means to deliver that."
Mobile operators may have legitimate concerns over the government's proposals. But, national roaming will introduce more competition across mobile business and consumer markets ensuring we always gets the best deals available.
The UK Government's plans were announced just as the European Commission revealed that data roaming across EU member states will be 25 times cheaper in July 2014 than in 2010.