Mobile phone users are celebrating the end of roaming fees throughout most of Europe – but consumers fear loopholes may still mean extra costs.
“Goodbye roaming fees” is the celebratory message from the European Commission in a joint statement with the Maltese Presidency of the European Council and the European Parliament president, marking the day charges come to an end for using mobile phones when travelling throughout most of Europe. The institutions have described the end of roaming charges as a “true European success story”.
It’s the culmination of a decade-long battle by Brussels to banish the practice of adding hefty charges when people travel abroad – to conform to the ideals of the common market, and perhaps to show sceptical Europeans that the EU can make their lives better.
The new rules cover the European Economic Area (EEA): the 28 EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein.
They mean that using cellphones from abroad to contact home should cost no additional money. However contacting another country from your home mobile will still be charged extra.
There are also question marks over the amount of data people can consume abroad; people are advised to check with service providers.
Travellers have welcomed the changes. “I think it’s excellent,” Charlie Wild, a musician from Scotland visiting Brussels, told Reuters. “I’ve been in Europe for two weeks spending three pounds (3.42 euros) a day to be able to use my phone, and tomorrow I don’t have to, and it’s great.”
Yet it is feared that many people travelling to other countries in Europe may still face disappointment. A fragmented telecoms market has made the project hugely complex; mobile phone operators have lobbied the EU to maintain what has been a significant source of revenue for them.
Although it will be illegal to ask customers to pay extra when using phones abroad, operators still face fees from foreign networks that connect them. Dozens have reportedly applied for exemptions, something that is legal under EU rules if companies face at least a three percent hit to revenue.
The Federation of German Consumer Organisations heralded the new law as “a huge step forward for consumers”, but said more work was needed to regulate charges for making and receiving international calls, and to monitor charges for data usage. But in Scandinavia and the Baltics it is thought that small operators may invoke the revenue loophole, or stop allowing consumers to use their phones abroad at all.
Meanwhile, Brexit means the United Kingdom’s future participation in the scheme is also in doubt, and is likely to depend on the outcome of upcoming negotiations over its departure from the European Union. Countries outside the EEA are not covered by the regulation and Britain is scheduled to leave the EU in March 2019.
Roaming charges gone under EU law – exactly the sort of thing that will depend on negotiation/ nature of Brexit https://t.co/4fqxCqMdUt— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) June 15, 2017