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Will free roaming end after Brexit?

free roaming
Beached: will Brexit mean stinging data charges once more?

If you go on holiday to Spain, France or one of the major EU countries such as Lithuania, you’re charged no more for mobile calls and data than if you were in Luton. But will free roaming come to an end when the UK leaves the EU?

Why would free roaming stop?

The abolition of roaming charges across the European Union was implemented by the European Commission in 2017. As of last June, any call time, text and data allowances bought as part of a pre-pay deal or monthly contract in the UK were usable right across the EU. 

But with the UK set to leave the EU next spring (you may have read about it in the news), is all this set to change? Are we about to go back to the days of paying £3 per MB when using Twitter in Tenerife?

The BBC’s tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones put out an ominous tweet on this subject this morning:

That sounds like we should be preparing for bill hikes, but it’s not entirely clear cut. 

Why free roaming may not stop

Free roaming in some EU countries was already offered well before the EU enforced its legislation in 2017. Networks such as Three have been offering free roaming in dozens of countries for years. 

It’s also worth noting that some networks also offer free roaming in countries outside of the EU – Three, again, being a particularly strong example. It offers free roaming in 71 different countries, including the US, Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand. In other words, free roaming isn’t contingent on EU legislation.

Is there any real threat that this arrangement will come to an end next spring?

It will boil down to hard economics. If the costs of a UK network providing free roaming to, say, French customers is roughly equivalent to the French network offering the same to us Brits, then there’s no good reason for the arrangements to end.

Difficulties may arise if there’s an imbalance. As Rory Cellan-Jones points out in a subsequent tweet to the one quoted earlier:  “loads of Brits go to Spain few Spanish come here. So Spanish consumers effectively subsidise ours and that could stop.”

The Daily Mail reports that: ” Ministers have struck a deal with Europe’s four largest mobile operators – including Vodaphone and EE – to ensure there is no return to the rip-off fees of the past.” Given they can’t even spell Vodafone correctly, you do wonder about the accuracy of the report, but here’s hoping…

Now read this: How can BT get away with charging £150 per GB of roaming data?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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