In the past, taking a trip to the continent would be expensive, with it costing money to receive and make calls. Over the last few years, roaming within the EU has become much cheaper. The EU’s single market, and by extension the ‘digital single market’, makes business between the member states easier by eliminating the costs of using phones when travelling abroad. According to the European Commission, since the EU first started taking action on roaming charges in 2007, the costs of roaming have been reduced by over 80 per cent.
EU law currently restricts how much operators based in one member state can charge for calls, texts and data in another. UK networks are bound by EU caps on roaming prices, where calls cannot cost more than €0.05, texts no more than €0.02, and data no more than €0.05 per megabyte. Subscribers to one EU network are given coverage throughout the union — assuming the appropriate roaming agreements are in place — thus opening up competition between international providers and overseas top up services, particularly in border areas.
Roaming fees between EU countries are set be abolished altogether by June 15, 2017. However, with British voters having chosen to leave the European Union, one of the many areas affected by “Brexit” is the cost of Brits using their phones on the continent, so what does the future hold for European roaming?
When the UK leaves the EU, British networks would eventually be free to charge whatever they wanted for roaming on the continent. Subscribers to EU networks would once again have to pay for roaming fees when visiting the UK. This will not occur overnight though, as Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union provides a two-year negotiation period for a member state seeking to leave the union. It is possible that ‘Brexit’ will not be concluded until early 2019, in which case European roaming could be free for a period, before being reintroduced 18 months later. Such communication barriers could lead to an increase in overseas top up services within Europe, which are currently popular with diaspora communities in countries outside of the EU.
Even so, in a competitive market, rivalry between carriers would be likely to keep post-Brexit roaming prices in check. Although UK operators’ roaming prices in some countries are very expensive, networks like Vodafone have surprisingly affordable rates for many destinations outside the EU, including the United States, Australia and Canada. The situation may even highlight the issue of roaming fees, and allow some operators to differentiate by offering inclusive EU roaming even after the UK leaves the EU.
For now, it is difficult to predict what will happen to roaming fees. It is possible that the UK government could negotiate a good roaming deal, but as with many other aspects of the Brexit issue, we may just have to wait and see what happens once the dust has settled.