We recently asked our Patreon backers which Brexit questions they wanted answering. One of the things they wanted to know most, was how Brexit would affect mobile roaming throughout Europe. If you want to have a say then become a backer on Patreon.
In the past, there were no regulations or laws preventing additional charges when customers travelled to other countries and proceeded to use our phones there. In practice, this meant significant charges being added when making and even receiving calls.
EU Regulation number 531/2012 brought in the beloved ‘surcharge-free roaming’, also known as ‘Roam Like at Home’ throughout the European Union. This prevented carriers from charging you any more for using your phone abroad than you would be charged when in your home country. In practice, this mean that if you cost you 20p a minute to make a call in the UK, it would cost 20p a minute to make a call in the EU.
The regulation also imposed a hard ‘default financial limit’ for mobile data usage, internationally not simply in the EU, at €50 – with operators required to send alerts once you have used 80% and then 100% of your ‘roaming’ data allowance.
Whilst this regulation did not change the costs of international calls, it was a financial relief for many holidaymakers and businesspeople alike.
Obviously, when we leave the European Union, this may be subject to change.
In the event of a deal, surcharge-free roaming would continue to be guaranteed during the Implementation Period. Following the Implementation Period the arrangements for roaming, including surcharges, would depend on the outcome of the negotiations on the Future Economic Partnership.
What’s Set to Change?
The government has said that, “in the event of a deal, surcharge-free roaming would continue to be guaranteed during the Implementation Period. Following the Implementation Period the arrangements for roaming, including surcharges, would depend on the outcome of the negotiations on the Future Economic Partnership.”
However, with the prospect of our departure occurring with a deal reducing by the minute, it is more interesting to consider the implications in a no deal Brexit. To that effect, the government has said that “in the event that we leave the EU without a deal, the costs that EU mobile operators would be able to charge UK operators for providing roaming services would no longer be regulated…surcharge-free roaming when you travel to the EU could no longer be guaranteed.”
This is something reiterated in factsheets published by the European Commission on a ‘no deal Brexit’, with them reaffirming that “companies providing mobile communication services, such as voice calls, text messages or data, will no longer be bound by EU roaming rules when operating in the UK… companies may apply surcharges to UK customers using roaming services in the EU, and to EU citizens using roaming services in the UK.”
The government does, however, explicitly state that they “would legislate to ensure that the requirements on mobile operators to apply a financial limit on mobile data usage while abroad is retained in UK law” and that “leaving without a deal would not prevent UK mobile operators making and honouring commercial arrangements with mobile operators…the availability and pricing of mobile roaming in the EU would be a commercial question for the mobile operators.”
Ultimately, in a no-deal Brexit, there is no legal guarantee of ‘surcharge-free roaming’ but mobile operators do remain free to do so, and although it would be in the economic interests of the operators to bring back roaming charges, it is clear that none is willing to be the first to ‘pull the trigger’.
[O2 is] committed to providing our customers with great connectivity and value when they travel overseas. We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe. We will be working closely with the government and other European operators to try and protect the current arrangements so our customers can continue to enjoy free EU roaming once Britain officially leaves the EU.
What do Phone Networks Say?
We reached out to the four largest operators in the UK: Three, EE, O2 and Vodafone for comment on their mobile roaming plans.
All four confirmed to us that there are no plans to reintroduce mobile roaming surcharges at the moment.
With Vodafone simply stating that “there are no current plans to change our roaming propositions.”
Whilst Three and O2 gave more substantial statements stating that “Three is the global leader in international roaming and now offers roaming at no extra cost for its customers in over 70 destinations including Brazil, Singapore, the US and Australia. We’re committed to eradicating excessive roaming charges and will retain this great customer benefit regardless of Brexit negotiations allowing our customers to continue using their usual allowances when they travel within the EU.” and that “[O2 is] committed to providing our customers with great connectivity and value when they travel overseas. We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe. We will be working closely with the government and other European operators to try and protect the current arrangements so our customers can continue to enjoy free EU roaming once Britain officially leaves the EU.”