BT, TalkTalk and all of the main mobile networks have confirmed that if Scotland votes for independence, nothing will change for customers – at least for a the short term.
The six companies have issued an open letter stating that while services will continue to be sold in Scotland whatever the result, a number of issues relating to regulation, networking and allocation of radio spectrum licences need to be addressed.
As it’s unlikley that a separate Scotland would automatically gain EU membership, the companies want to know whether or not the telecoms industry would fit into the current EU framework on radio spectrum or a new set of rules.
The Scottish Government’s white paper on independence, Scotland’s Future, says that a separate regulator will replace Ofcom and plans for future spectrum awards to be worked out in collaboration with Ofcom in the future, much in the same way that Ofcom currently collaborates with the Irish telcoms regulator ComReg.
Scotland’s Future also calls for greater 3G coverage in rural areas. The white paper compares Scotland’s rural 3G coverage – 66 per cent in 2010 – to Sweden’s 98 per cent today and argues for greater rural coverage.
But the networks and ISPs have hinted that this could see costs rise. The open letter states:
“We may also need to modify our networks to reflect the reality of an independent Scotland; and we may need to consider whether to modify the services offered in Scotland, given its relatively demanding topography and relatively low population density. Any of these factors could lead to increased industry costs.”
Any of the factors, from regulation to topography could lead to increased industry costs which could be passed on directly to the consumer. For similar reasons, the costs of delivering free to air TV in Scotland could rise following a Yes vote.
Last month the owner of AAISP expressed doubts over his company’s ability to continue to offer services in Scotland, citing uncertainties over paying taxes in two states and having to contend with two regulators.
Currently two big UK Government projects have been set up to address the lack of decent broadband speeds and mobile coverage in rural areas. Two of the BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) schemes aim to see 95 per cent of all Scottish premises able to order superfast broadband – providing download speeds of at least 24Mbps by 2017. These plans have been augmented up by an extra £2.5 million injected into the CBS (Community Broadband Scotland) scheme by the Scottish Government
The separate Mobile Infrastructure Project has been set up to improve signal coverage in rural areas. From Scotland’s perspective, Aberdeenshire first benefits from this venture with parts of Inverness, Perth the Outer Hebredies, Orkney, Shetland to follow.