Independent Scotland Could Face Higher Mobile and Broadband Charges

BT, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, EE and Three say independence could increase their costs while others suggest roaming charges could be on the cards.

Scotland mobile and broadband charges

By Steve McCaskill

An independent Scotland could face higher charges for communications services, the CEOs of six of the U.K.'s largest telcos have warned, with others suggesting that Scottish mobile users could face roaming charges when using their phones in the rest of the U.K.

BT CEO Gavin Patterson, TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding, Telefonica U.K. CEO Ronan Dunne (O2), Vodafone U.K. CEO Jeroen Hoencamp, EE CEO Olaf Swantee and Three CEO Dave Dyson have signed an open letter reiterating their commitment to providing "high quality, affordable services" to the U.K., including Scotland, but say a "yes" vote would have implications.

"Should the majority of the people of Scotland vote for independence, there are a number of strategic and operational factors which would need to be resolved for our businesses," reads the letter.

Higher charges

The signatories say services could be impacted by the Scottish government's regulatory framework and approach to spectrum, which could differ from that of the U.K. It also questions whether legislation would comply with the current European framework, which allows for cross-border services—something that could be dependent on whether Scotland receives EU membership.

The companies also say that an independent Scottish telecoms market would be radically different to that of the United Kingdom and service charges could be affected.

Currently, rural parts of the country are covered by government programs such as Broadband Delivery U.K. (BDUK), which aims to provide superfast broadband to areas not covered by commercial deployments of fiber, and the Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP), which will improve mobile phone signal.

The £410 million Digital Scotland program, funded by BDUK, the Scottish government, BT and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), is aiming for 95 percent superfast broadband coverage by 2018, while O2 is bound by the terms of its 800MHz 4G license to provide a mobile broadband service to at least 95 percent of the Scottish population, but it will be up to the future Scottish government to determine such policy if voters elect for independence.

Higher roaming costs

"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," explains the letter.

It has also been speculated that mobile phone users in an independent Scotland might face roaming charges when using their handsets in the rest of the U.K. The EU has voted to abolish all charges by December 2015, but again, Scotland could be impacted if it is not accepted into the European community by independence.

The operators are a bit more guarded on this issue, but say they are keeping a close eye on the referendum and remain committed to the country no matter what the result.

"We reiterate that, whatever the outcome, we pledge we will continue to work hard to deliver the best possible services for all our customers and remain committed to our employees and operations in Scotland," ends the letter.

TechWeekEurope was unable to reach the Scottish Government for a response to the claims. The Scottish independence referendum will take place on Thursday 18 September.