Have Mobile Phone Companies Failed?

Owen Jones, famous left-wing political commentator and columnist at the Guardian, recently penned an article entitled, “Mobile Phone companies have failedit’s time to nationalize them,” and I couldn’t disagree.

Owen Jones’ argument that the fragmentation of mobile phone services is inefficient is correct. Instead of a unified network where connecting to different networks is real and possible, and coverage is uniform and excellent, you find customers everywhere saying, “Well I’m only on Vodafone because no one else has a good signal where I live, even though I hate their customer service,” or “I had no choice really, it’s expensive but O2 are the only ones where I work.” It’s an absurd situation in which to find ourselves, a unified telecommunications network is something consumers need, and EE’s moniker “Nothing Nowhere” speaks for itself.

Currently, each individual mobile network has it’s own masts that it refuses to share—bar Orange and T-Mobile with EE. This seems uniquely absurd. If we’re not going to eat the whole hog, then the least we can do is nationalize the service behind phone networks. We do it with land-lines, the Internet, and the rail service. The infrastructure is nationalized to ensure good service and customer-oriented running, whilst the private profit making companies sit on top of it. This would be largely improbable with mobile phone companies, given the fact that it would no longer be necessary to pay for minutes and calls from one network. But companies like Carphone Warehouse, offering phones on payment plans, would thrive.

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Mobile Phone companies are putting profit before consumer satisfaction, and nationalized services don’t. How many times has your phone not worked but you can’t get through to the call center because it’s Sunday? Mobile Phone companies are profit hungry, and desperate to drain pennies out of their customers. From selling contracts to third-parties (like Vodafone), to sending customers a cheque each year as a loyalty bonus (again Vodafone). These tricks of the trade pull in customers and tie them down—if they’re not already tied down by their absurdly long 24-month contract. It’s time the mobile network served the customers, not the bank.

The average £32 monthly contract runs for 24 months, which averagely again costs the typical consumer £768 during the whole contract. One can clearly see the farcical unsubstantial gestures made by phone companies when offering a free phone: it’s not free at all. The average phone costs £200. It doesn’t seem free to me at all.

Importantly for this argument, is that mobile phone networks didn’t start out as a purely private enterprise. It was the result of public-sector research money. Indeed, the state goes so far as to organize the distribution of different bandwidths to different networks. It’s not implausible to suggest nationalization.

As Owen Jones says, the case for nationalization of the mobile phone network providers is overwhelming. The unified network system, consumer oriented service are benefits that our businesses, our economy, and we sorely need. For a simpler world that is easily achievable, we really should nationalize our mobile networks.

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