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You Don’t Miss What You’ve Never Had

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You don’t miss what you’ve never had. That’s something I learnt some years ago when I discovered that I needed glasses. Standing and looking at the departures board at a railway station one day, I realised the friend standing next to me could read it perfectly well, whereas to me, it was indistinct. I needed to get much closer before I could see which platform our train was from. Up until then, I’d just thought that the world looked fuzzy to everybody at a distance. I didn’t miss not being able to see that well, because I’d never been able to, and so I hadn’t known I was missing anything.

I was reminded of this the other day, when I read that one local authority had decided not to allow any mobile phone masts to be built on council property. That decision seems out of line with the relevant national planning guidance, which encourages local authorities to help find ’potential [telecoms] sites by making suitable local authority owned property available to users and by encouraging others to do the same with their property.’

I don’t mention this example because I want to talk about the minutiae of planning guidance. Rather, I think the council is just plain wrong. Well with my job, I’m bound to say that, aren’t I? But let me explain why.

In its impact assessment, the council said that the effect of its policy would be ‘neutral’, i.e. they’d be no better off than they were before, but no worse off either. Think about that for a minute. That would be like saying that if I hadn’t had my eyes tested and got some glasses, I’d be no worse off than I was before. Only in a very narrow sense would that be true; but missing out on being able to see stuff properly at a distance doesn’t seem like a ‘neutral’ outcome to me.

Not so long ago, we didn’t have mobile telecommunications at all. Today, they are ubiquitous, and vitally important to individuals, to communities, to businesses, and to the wider economy. Connecting to the Internet via a mobile device allows people to access a wide range of central and local government services; to do research for a school project or apply to university; to manage their bank account and pay bills; to apply for a job; or to buy groceries. It’s true that we used to manage without being able to do these things: then again, people used to manage without central heating, cars, electric lights, or antibiotics.

So if that council had been around in about 2,500 BC, I wonder if they’d have said that they’d happily stick with flint tools, and that opting not to use these new fangled metal ones would have a ‘neutral’ effect, and that they’d be no worse off. Well, as any anthropologist will tell you, societies that adapt to changing circumstances tend to prosper, while those that stuck with stone axes in the Bronze Age were toast.

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Mobile Operators Association

The Mobile Operators Association (MOA) represents the four UK mobile network operators – EE (the company that runs EE, Orange & T-Mobile in the UK), O2, Three, and Vodafone – on radio frequency (RF) health and safety, and related town planning issues associated with the use of mobile phone technology.

The Economy and Society

Mobile telecommunications are vital for the UK’s economic competitiveness and in promoting social inclusion. There are now 89.9 million mobile subscriptions in the UK. In early 2015 61% of UK adults used their mobile phones for internet access. Tablet ownership is 54% of UK households, increasing from 44% in Q1 2014.