Communications Minister Dermot Ahern TD has hit out at “madcap” mobile phone roaming charges and says he expects their complete abolition by next year.
Ahern said that the public north and south were paying through the nose for the border thanks to the roaming charges imposed by phone operators. He added that roaming prices can result in a charge of 10-12c per mobile call rising up to 60 or 70c per minute as a result of straying onto a UK-based carrier.
Ahern said he would raise the issue with his Northern Ireland counterpart Ian Pearson when he meets him next week.
He said: “As a minister from a border county, I know all about the madcap roaming charges imposed. You don’t even have to cross the border in county Louth to be hit in your pocket. As far south as Clogherhead and Ardee, someone with a mobile phone could suddenly stray onto the UK service of a mobile operator and end up paying five times the price for a normal call. This has to stop.
“I know from our contacts with the mobile operators that a flat-rate charge for the whole of Ireland will be introduced. I want it without any strings attached. I understand some of the difficulties that operators have had to face in scrapping it, but it is completely unsustainable in a small island like ours to have roaming charges.”
The minister added: “This is a small island and most other comparable locations in Europe, both in terms of size and population, would have one price rate for mobile and fixed line. I want to see this brought in as quickly as possible. With 60,000 Armagh and Tyrone supporters in Dublin last weekend, it must have been a bonanza time for operators but an expensive one for the fans.”
Ahern added that his recent visit to Japan and Korea last week underlined in his mind the imperative to introduce high speed broadband connectivity. While the Republic has made progress in introducing flat-rate internet access through FRIACO and medium speed connectivity over DSL, the future is high speed and progress needs to be fast-tracked, he said.
“Once we have children using broadband in schools we will have made a major stride forward. We can’t remain stuck in first gear on low speed when the future is high speed. Time is not on our side and we need to act now,” Ahern concluded.
By John Kennedy