When roaming charges were scrapped within the EU in June 2017, it was a fine moment for mobile users with a fondness for travel.
Travellers saved an estimated £350 million per year as a result of the charges being abolished, but for UK users, the celebration may be cut short after Brexit.
The EU Digital Single Market
UK Prime Minister Theresa May stated in March that Britain will be leaving the EU Digital Single Market (DSM) when the country leaves the European Union.
The DSM is designed to take away any regulatory barriers between members of the EU, and oversaw the abolition of roaming charges across member states.
“The UK will not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which will continue to develop after our withdrawal from the EU.” Said Ms May, continuing to say:
“This is a fast evolving, innovative sector, in which the UK is a world leader. It will be particularly important to have domestic flexibility, to ensure the regulatory environment can always respond nimbly and ambitiously to new developments.”
What Does it Mean for Roaming Charges?
This is the big question that we are all waiting for an official answer to. Obviously, the reintroduction of roaming charges would be an issue for many who travel regularly, as using one’s phone abroad could swiftly become substantially more expensive.
But will it happen? The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) has been quoted as saying that roaming charges will be restored if no deal is made, with a spokesman explaining:
“The Government is committed to securing the best deal for British consumers.
“Arrangements on mobile roaming would be subject to any negotiations, however, a future partnership between the UK and EU is clearly in the interests of both sides.”
Commitment to Roaming
It is not all bad news though, with Vodafone and Three already committing to not reinstating roaming charges regardless of changes to the law, while the DCMS explained that consumer expectation will have formed over recent years, forcing the hand of operators.
That being said, there is another side to this too, with Sharon White, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, expressing her doubts that network would be able to avoid the charges, saying:
“[Our] mobile operators may be exposed to unfair costs, and our people and businesses could end up paying more than our European neighbours”.
The WTO Problem
There is no precedent for roaming charges when a country leaves the EU, so nobody is entirely sure what will happen.
Some had suggested that an agreement between the UK and the EU on roaming charges would be the simplest solution, but Gunther Oettinger, the Commissioner of the EU, explained that any standalone agreement between the two parties would be in breach of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
With no idea having universal support yet, the only guarantee is that if roaming charges do return, it will become a lot more complicated to use your mobile phone while abroad.