There are many similarities between the role of citizen and customer. Both can be demanding of those in charge, both want to believe their money is being spent well, and both want to feel as if they have some input into the services they receive. However, it can be a complicated and a somewhat dangerous game to confuse the two.
The extension of the Mobile Infrastructure Project deadline due to difficulties connected to planning permission is one area where it is clear to see the problems that come from balancing the differing expectations of citizens and consumers.
The mobile phone has become a critical part of both a citizen’s and a customer’s daily existence. It is also frequently the way in which people communicate with businesses and the government, emphasising its importance yet further to these organisations. This means that more than ever, those who struggle to use these devices because of location, become even more important for both parties. The Mobile Infrastructure Project was designed to be a scheme where business and government worked together to address the poor coverage in remote areas, by filling in the so-called ‘not spots’.
Attempting to solve this problem has once again brought to the fore how different the demands of the customer and the citizen can be. The customer wants perfect network coverage to almost any location that they visit, but the citizen isn’t keen on large masts cluttering the countryside. In the UK’s competitive network landscape one of the key selling points for an operator is the coverage they offer. All four of the major networks had to be on side for the project to get the momentum it needed, and then the EU’s stipulations meant that the areas in which these sites are positioned had to be complete not-spots, which goes to show how complicated things can be when governments and business try to work towards a common goal.
Of course the idea of adding coverage to not-spots and the actuality of it are two very different things, because usually there’s a pretty good reason why a mast hasn’t been built in a particular location in the first place.
Although things have changed a lot in these regards, an infrastructure expert at one of the major networks recently told me that the same community managers who faced protests about the building of masts now had to deal with an avalanche of complaints about a lack of coverage.
Quite how things develop will be one to watch, but understanding the differences between the citizen and the customer is a dilemma that is unlikely to go away.