No more roaming free?

No more roaming free?

Those who can remember back more than two years may remember how the telecoms companies just ripped us off when we travelled abroad. Many were the stories of people who returned from their holidays to discover mobile phone bills bigger than the cost of the holiday itself.

Allegedly, this was because the UK telecom had to conclude a commercial agreement with a foreign telecom to use its network and that this costed a lot. This meant that mobile operators charged customers big additional fees for using the service when abroad.

In reality, this was nonsense. Either the telecoms companies owned overseas networks or they bought or exchanged capacity in the overseas markets at next to no additional cost. None of this could justify the exorbitant charges to customers or the super-profits being made from those charges by the operators.

However, in one of those much-maligned EU regulatory interventions, in July 2017, roaming charges in the European Economic Area (EEA = EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) were abolished. In practice, this has meant that UK mobile customers can use their domestic allowance of minutes, text messages and data throughout the EEA without incurring additional charges. EU regulations set limits on the wholesale roaming charges mobile operators can charge each other.

However, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, surcharge-free roaming cannot be guaranteed.

The government has already agreed new regulations – Mobile Roaming (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 – which will come into force on exit day. They remove the requirement for UK mobile operators to provide surcharge-free roaming in the EEA. However, other consumer protection provisions such as a default financial limit on mobile data usage abroad (set at £45) and requirements for mobile operators to inform customers when 80% and 100% of their data usage has been reached, will continue to apply in UK law.

Of course, mobile operators may choose to continue to offer surcharge free roaming after Brexit despite not being under an EU legal obligation to do so. This would be a commercial decision for each mobile operator.

Similarly, landline and mobile calls and texts from the UK to EU countries have been capped at 19p per minute for calls and 6p per text since May this year.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, UK telecom operators would not be bound by these EU regulations. In fact, the government has again passed regulations that will repeal, on exit day, the legislation that imposes the capped charges.

Therefore, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, all of us who make calls, or travel, to EEA countries will need to be extremely vigilant and keep abreast of what their telecoms operator has decided to do.

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