English villagers rely on France to use mobiles

It seems the English are closer to the French than we may think, indeed so close that residents of one English coastal village have to rely on France to get a mobile phone signal, which has left residents and tourists liable for huge bills.

English villagers rely on France to use mobiles
The White Cliffs of Dover, where if you might want to turn your mobile phone off or be hit by a hefty bill. Photo: Jlcwalker/flickr

It's a typical English village overlooking the Channel, complete with traditional pub and parish church. But turn on your phone, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in France.

The only mobile network available in parts of St Margarets at Cliffe, located on the famous White Cliffs near Dover just over 20 miles (32 kilometres) across the water from France, is French.

And that can mean huge bills for residents and visiting tourists.

"We switch our mobile phones off when we're not really using them – we switch them back on when we go out of the village," said Nigel Wydymus, landlord of the Coastguard pub and restaurant.

"It's more of a problem for tourists and visitors who come to have a walk on the cliffs… as soon as they go to make their phone call, it will dial out but it will go through the French network."

Most people in Britain with mobile telephones sign up to a package which includes calls within the country, but calls made overseas are often excluded and charged at a much higher rate.

"I just got down here and my phone bleeped. It's a message from my phone supplier saying 'Welcome to France — calls cost 28.8 pence per minute' to make. Which is unusual because obviously I'm still on the British Isles," said one man out walking on the cliffs.

To find a British mobile phone signal, users have to head back up the steep cliffs to the church, where the weather vane on the roof doubles as the local transmitter.

The oddity is irritating for locals but while the number of people affected remains small – St Margarets has a permanent population of about 2,500 – things are unlikely to change.

Graeme Neill, deputy editor of Mobile Today magazine, said the only way to resolve the problem was to build more masts, something operators are currently unlikely to do after the recent huge investment in 3G.

"If you have a rural area, only maybe accessing a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand households, [it] wouldn't really give you a good return on investment," he told AFP.

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