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UK's Copper Cage is a national disgrace

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The maps below, of southern England and of Austria, show population density (see Dan Cookson’s stunning map site). You will see that apart from the Vienna-Munich corridor, Austria is very sparsely populated. It is a country covered in steep mountains, deep valleys and thick forests. This makes for two wonderful characteristics; empty roads that delight any English driver, and total, universal, 4G mobile coverage from the Grossglockner to the Neusiedler See. You are reading this thanks to a little plastic cube on my desk that streams Netflix and concurrently provides high speed broadband and Comms connections throughout the house (with a couple of range extenders as needed – it is after all solid stone) all via the mobile network for €1 a day. It does, rarely, once or twice a year, when Thor is engaged with Odin and the valleys shake and the tiles rattle with the thunder of their battle and scorching actinic thunderbolts explode Larch and Spruce in flame and splinters, drop out. But has always come back before it became critical. 

My brother lives in a busy little town in Suffolk, much visited and photographed by tourists in the Summer months. The land is soft and undulating with the homely comfort captured by John Constable. The highest part of Suffolk is a town called Sudbury, perched on a mountain some 200m high. But neither my brother nor any of his neighbours can use a mobile phone in their own homes. They have to walk or drive a couple of hundred metres to get a signal – a situation to which Anglians are so used for it to be quite unremarkable.

He is amongst the one-third of rural households in England (not even the UK) who do not have access to the mobile network. The Telegraph reports

Brian Wilson, author of the report and chairman of Rural England, said: “Nearly a fifth of people in England live in rural areas, yet the evidence shows that many of them face inadequate services, such as being unable to make mobile phone calls or being without transport options.“Two years after we released the first State of Rural Services report it seems clear that rural residents frequently still lose out in terms of funding and access to services.

“The challenges facing rural communities are likely to grow in the coming years and this will be reflected in their service needs. If policies and service delivery were properly rural-proofed it seems evident that those needs would be much better met.”

The report found a basic mobile phone call cannot be made inside 33 per cent of rural buildings – an issue which affects just three per cent of urban premises.

Here in my bit of Austria one can no longer order a land-line for domestic use – the phone networks have abandoned these copper cages in other than the well-populated towns and valleys. The ‘handy’ is ubiquitous, and officialdom here has even stopped asking for both ‘home phone’ and ‘mobile phone’ numbers – almost everyone, including the elderly, just has the one.

I can think of a number of reasons, none of them good or adequate, for the UK’s abysmal performance. But then again there may be something I don’t know, some compelling and over-riding reason why mobile 4G networks can power one of Europe’s most sparsely populated regions but cannot allow a bloke in the leafy shires to receive  a mobile call in his own living room. 


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