Soon EU roaming charges are going, going … nope, staying put

1 Mar 2017

Image: northallertonman/Shutterstock

The outright roaming charge ban is nearing, and so the inevitable sidestepping of the rules by operators has emerged. If you want to use data abroad you’re probably going to have to pay.

Last month, the final nuance to the rules outlawing roaming charges in the EU was decided. A behind-the-scenes rule, it related to how network providers charge each other for customers’ use of phones while abroad.

Heralded as the “last step”, it painted a rosy picture of how our holiday-making will be in future, with ‘all you can eat’ data packages sating our smartphone addictions from Galway to Glasgow, Waterford to Warsaw.

But, alas, it’s all a lie. Mobile operators are in the process of working their way around the rules with a clever use of contract lingo – ‘additional service benefits’.

As reported by the Irish Independent, loopholes are coming into focus.

At Three, for example, a new reality is emerging. Whereas currently, users on bill pay often have all you can eat data, this will not be provided on the continent. Instead, bill pay plans are being revised and, in the coming weeks, Dr Loophole is here to treat you.

Essentially, a limit of data will be provided both here and abroad, though, when in Ireland, all you can eat data will be provided as an additional service benefit.

“Today Three has announced changes to its bill pay plans which will come in to effect in April,” said the company in a statement. “The plans now include a generous allocation of data which, in addition to the call and text plan allocation, can be used at home or when roaming in the EU. All you can eat data remains available to customers, for free and for use at home, as an additional service.”

Three Roaming

The new Three deals

Three weeks ago, when asked by if data allocation will be identical here and abroad when the roaming changes come into force, this was the company’s statement:

“From June 2017, bill pay customers will be able to use their text, call and data allowance as per their plans when roaming in the EU.”

They didn’t lie, but that is quite the shift.

According to the Irish Independent, Meteor is looking at its own way to navigate the roaming rule change, though as yet the company has not responded to a comment request from us.

Thankfully Vodafone, for its part, will honour data allowances.

“Vodafone welcomes the regulation and is fully embracing it and applying it wholly and completely across all mobile tariffs,” the company said. “Vodafone is committed to providing our customers with simple, worry-free roaming experiences,” they added, before confirming its ‘Red Connect’ tariff will provide for like-for-like data usage.

There will be a flat daily fee to avail of this service from Vodafone. In the US and Canada it will cost €2.99 per day, or €4.99 in plenty of other countries.

Tesco Mobile said: “At Tesco Mobile Ireland we are currently in the process of reviewing our roaming plans in line with the new EU regulations and intend to update our customers in the coming months.”

Presumably, Comreg can’t really do anything just yet as, until the roaming regulation change comes into effect in June, there are no companies doing wrong. However, it’s going to be interesting to see how these various interpretations of the ‘end of roaming’ come to pass.

Ten years of high-level EU negotiations to ban roaming charges has led to this.

Updated, 5.08pm, 1 March 2017: This article was updated to clarify Vodafone information, with the company not charging a daily rate in EU countries.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic