Plenty of people will remember a time when they had to think very carefully about how they used their mobile phone in another EU country. Carelessness meant a huge bill when you got home.
Those days are gone – at least as long as we’re an EU member. The EU spent about a decade convincing phone companies to scrap so-called roaming charges, saving its citizens (including UK citizens) from eye-watering fees just for using their phones abroad.
On December 15 2016, an EU regulation finally laid down detailed rules on roaming. It all gets very complicated very quickly, with rules about fair use policies and how mobile providers should assess the sustainability of abolishing roaming surcharges.
But put simply, mobile providers will charge the same rate in another country as if you were at home, so long as you’re not abusing their fair usage policy with excessive mobile phone use.
The regulation applies within the EEA, which includes the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This means there are 30 other countries you can use your mobile phone in without having to be worried about receiving an outrageous bill.
It’s an important step for a modern digital age, with business people and holidaymakers wanting to use increasing amount of mobile data abroad. It’s a great example of an EU regulation making life easier for its citizens, and quite the opposite from the picture Brexiters paint of burdensome EU “red tape”.
An EU Regulation (rather than a Directive) is immediately applicable EU legislation. That means the rules on roaming are binding and applied across the bloc without nations choosing how to implement them. If we go through with Brexit, the UK won’t be bound by the regulation and it would become subject to negotiation. Mobile providers could start bringing roaming charges back as they will not be required by law to not charge Brits for roaming within the bloc. Theresa May’s announcement that she intends to leave the EU’s digital single market has made this more likely. In a no-deal Brexit roaming rules would be totally up in the air.
The threat of roaming charges creeping back got scant coverage during the referendum campaign. That’s perhaps unsurprising, since the new rules were only fully rolled out in summer 2017. But it could add another cost to Brits’ holidays – on top of the extra expense already happening thanks to the tumbling value of the pound.
No one voted for pricier holidays. The potential of roaming charges returning is unlikely to change people’s minds about Brexit on its own, but it’s another of those benefits we never realised we might lose – or even knew we had given that the Regulation only came in after the referendum. The consequences of Brexit are becoming clearer. We need a People’s Vote.