End of roaming charges in EU, but what about UK?

A European mobile phone customer on a trip abroad to attend a concert. [Georgi Gotev]

Roaming charges will cease to exist for the EU as of 15 June 2017. But if on 23 June 2016, the British people votes to leave the EU, there is a high chance that calls between the British islands and the member states could become very expensive.

In a phased approach, from next Saturday (30 April), operators will only be able to charge EU subscribers a small roaming fee on top of domestic costs: up to 5 cents per calling minute, up to 2 cents per SMS sent, and up to 5 cents per MB of data downloaded (excl. VAT).

And on 15 June, roaming charges will completely disappear. Consumers will pay the same price for calls, texts and mobile data wherever they are travelling in the EU. Calling a friend when you are at home or in another EU country won’t make a difference on your bill, the Commission says on its website.

The competent stakeholders refused to comment on the possible consequences of Brexit on bills by UK customers.

In case of Brexit, though negotiations are expected on the conditions under which the UK will leave the EU. In the course of the negotiations, it is very likely that the UK would want to retain deals such as in mobile telephony, so that UK consumers could benefit from the abolition of roaming charges.

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The UK government has said that British consumers can rest assured they’ll benefit from EU plans to drop roaming charges in 2017—regardless of the outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership.

Brexit won't affect roaming charges, vows UK government

British consumers can rest assured they’ll benefit from EU plans to drop roaming charges in 2017—regardless of the outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership, a British official told a concerned House of Lords committee yesterday (7 September).

However, if Eastern European countries are hit by stricter British immigration rules, they could be in a position to block such deals.

euractiv.com asked the European Commission and consumer organisations to comment on the implications of Brexit on roaming charges for British consumers. Unsurprisingly, spokesperson Nathalie Vandystadt said the Commission didn’t answer “if” questions.

David Meechan, Chief press officer of Which?, the UK consumer protection organisation, said the question was “interesting”, but as an independent, apolitical body, it was not commenting on any EU-related issues during the referendum. “Come back to us on June 24th, he said.

Surprisingly, the European equivalent of Which? also declined to answer.

Johannes Kleis, Head of Communications for the European Consumer Organisation BEUC, said he regrets not being able to provide a comment. “We do not comment on Brexit issues,” he said.

Research by EURACTIV shows that it is difficult to evaluate exactly how much it would cost to the British consumers how much they would have to pay more, if their country exits the European digital market. Pricing depends on the type of the subscription, and different operators have different tariffs.

However, it appears that if a client has exceeded the limits set in a subscription, outgoing calls outside the European digital market could easily reach £1 per minute or more, incoming calls about half of that, and internet surfing could be charged as of £5/MB.

Consumers in the EU, calling in the UK, would also incur similarly high costs for mobile communications.

In June 2015, negotiators from the European Commission, Parliament and Council agreed on telecoms single market legislation banning roaming charges in Europe and introducing net neutrality measures.

Under the agreement, roaming charges for passing international mobile phone calls within Europe will be dropped starting on 15 June 2017. A transition phase will start this month, in April 2016, when charges will see a first downwards pivot. Call fees will then be capped at €0.05 per minute, an SMS at €0.02 and data use at €0.05 per megabyte.

The agreement doesn't address the issue of zero rating, which allows internet providers to offer services like Facebook or Skype at no extra cost.

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