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Mobile Phone Roaming Charges Motion

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I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all after ‘2015;’ and insert

“and calls on the mobile network operators to abolish roaming charges in advance of 2015; and further notes that regulation of telecommunications on a UK-wide basis is key to a competitive Northern Ireland marketplace.”

The issue before the Assembly is, indeed, a serious one. It is of concern to the business community and to the individual. It imposes a cost on business, on tourists who come here and on all who need to travel outside of or come to Northern Ireland. That cost is incurred even on occasions when you do not leave the jurisdiction. When you approach the border area and even before you move into the Republic, you can start to incur a cost.

The motion recognises the problem, but it presents as an answer a solution that the proposers know is impractical, without logic and not achievable. I will come back to that. The motion is political and has nothing to do with addressing the issue. If the proposers were serious about the issue, they would not have gone about it in this manner.

It is geared only to portray an all-Ireland approach to a solution, when the proposers know that it is not achievable. Indeed, it falls into the same category as a proposal from Sinn Féin just a week or two ago on an all-Ireland job creation strategy. It is the same type of approach.

I suppose that we should not be surprised at that. If you look back — I was going to say into the annals of history, but you do not actually have to go too far back to examine Sinn Féin’s approach to the telecommunications industry. You have the telecommunications industry wanting to erect masts, and the opposition campaigns that were orchestrated against the erection of masts. Indeed, sometimes damage to masts occurred through and around that campaign. I believe that Sinn Féin carries some responsibility for that. That was the approach to the telecommunications industry, which is now recognised in the motion as being so important to the development of the economy. At one stage, they were going to stop the erection of telecommunication masts, and now we are recognising that they have come full circle and now want good communication systems. I suppose that we should be grateful for that.

We also remember that, not too long ago, there were proposals from Sinn Féin on an economic basis and to raise money for the economy that were actually going to put a tax on those who wanted to send text messages or use their mobile phones. We are now complaining at this stage about roaming charges.

I thank the Member for her intervention, but let me just ask this question: does anyone actually believe that a penalty put on to a phone supplier would not have resulted in that being put on to the user of a phone? Let us be honest about it. It is fairy-dust economics. That is what it is all about. It is not practical.

*A full copy of the debate can be found at http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/record/reports2011/111115.htm#4

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