I happen to work for one of the largest meter producers and also happen to know how these things are designed.
The R/F component of the meter is typically customer specified (i.e. whatever they want we slap it on the meter, LPR, ZigBee, WiFi, EDGE, GPRS, 3G, PLC, you name it). So this option is what the utility thought would work best for their usage scenario.
WRT the disconnect part, you can't work on a "keep-alive" signal. That is by law. All error states (interference would be one them, age-related inaccuracies is another) must work in favour of the user. Hence in a case of a meter being "offline"/unreachable the meter will continue to allow power. In such a case a manual disconnect would be required, if warranted.
However, the basic premise still holds, ie most meters can be managed remotely. So while on-site engines will not be removed from the picture they will now manage much fewer incidents.
Anon for obvious reasons