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We need to talk about roaming charges

We need to talk about roaming charges

Roaming charges were supposed to be a thing of the past by the end of 2015. Instead, mobile customers are going to end up getting stung when they go abroad for the foreseeable future.

And as new uSwitch Tech research shows Brits have chalked up £573 million in fees over the past year, the problem clearly isn’t getting any better.

In March, national governments shot down a ruling by the European Parliament and European Commission which would have finally ended roaming fees this year.

While it’s not known which governments were behind vetoing a rule which looked set to change things for the better for tourists, it’s thought popular destinations in the Mediterranean may have been to blame.

Why? Because they fear that an end to lucrative roaming charges would see local users hit harder to make up for the shortfall.

eu commission

Clearly not a good look when your economy is struggling and your population is already being made to feel the strain thanks to punishing austerity measures.

Now, users are set to get a ‘roaming allowance’ as part of their contract. But with networks getting to choose how this works, confusion reigns.

As our research shows, many users are unaware when they’re in a non–EU country and a quarter thought fees were still being scrapped before 2016.

Leaving issues such as this down to networks simply doesn’t work. Some, such as Three with its Feel At Home package, already offer a solid roaming offering.

three feel at home

Others, such as Vodafone, need to go much further than the bolt–ons that offer what today counts as minimal mobile access.

The simple truth is that in this situation, regulation works. Networks need to be told exactly what they can and can’t do. And governments need to fall in line.

The situation isn’t helped by big mergers between carriers, although the boom in MVNOs in the UK does at least mean consumers can get a better deal if they use their device abroad.

There also needs to be a far more concerted effort on the networks’ part to educate consumers. If most don’t know what the charges are, then the chance of so–called bill shock is higher.

Text messages detailing fee data are all well and good when you arrive on holiday.

hotel swimming pool roaming

But these missives come through even when you’re in a destination where you can use a roaming allowance. Networks can and must do better.

Websites need to feature much clearer guidance, tariffs need to be simplified and mobile owners need to be told exactly how to toggle on and off data roaming on their handsets.

It also needs to be made clear that making calls and sending texts also costs.

Yes, some people wilfully ignore warnings. But this debate has gone on for far too long.

The weight of travel across the EU and beyond means this is a problem that needs fixing immediately. If governments can’t do it, then the networks must take on the responsibility.

View uSwitch's international roaming press release and research in full here: Brits still hit with annual mobile roaming bills of £573 million after holidaying in the EU

Arm yourself with the information you need to avoid roaming charges by reading on our network-by-network guide: Guide to roaming and top tips for travellers

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