The days of coming back from Europe with a monster data bill have come to an end. You may have noticed that British carriers have been getting a bit more generous lately, offering free roaming within the EU – the reason for that is that, as of today, roaming charges have been abolished. You’ll be able to call, text and browse the internet for the same price as you’d pay at home.
There are a handful of caveats, but it’s still markedly better than it was before. First, you need to live in a member state for at least eight months of the year, and if you travel for more than four months you may encounter extra fees. Second, phone companies can impose fair-usage limits on data if your plan is super cheap or unlimited – but even then the cost is capped to a maximum of €7.70 (~£6.77) per gigabyte for now (and the plan is to reduce that to €2.50 – around £2.20 – by 2022). Third, this only applies to your inclusive minutes, texts and data – if you go over your allowance, then you’re on the á la carte price list, and that’s set by your phone company, and is unaffected by legislation.
But in the greater scheme of things, these are pretty small fry, and it’s really brilliant to see an end to the days of furtively turning on data to briefly access Google Maps, and panicking as hundreds of WhatsApp messages roll in. As the EU Commission said: “Eliminating roaming charges is one of the greatest and most tangible successes of the EU.”
Of course there’s an elephant in the room here. Hard to believe I missed it, given the enormous Union Jack painted on its side. We voted to leave the EU, so what happens to us in two years’ time?
Well, that’s still very much up in the air, and dependent on what kind of deal we reach with the EU. Given that no deal (you know, the one that’s supposed to be better than a bad deal, even though it’s the worst possible deal around) would result in planes being unable to land in mainland Europe, that may seem like a moot point, but even if we do reach a deal, the UK could still go its own way on this one.
It would be up to a future UK government to decide whether or not to adopt the EU’s regulation when the country leaves in 2019. Plenty of tech companies have been taking the tanking pound as an opportunity to take back control of their pricing structures – it wouldn’t be wholly surprising if the phone networks made the same calculation without government intervention. You can’t say we weren’t warned.
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