Huge mobile phone bills while travelling in the EU will soon be a thing of the past.
End of EU roaming charges
Four years after the EU’s proposal for a single telecoms market, roaming surcharges on calls, texts and data usage for your mobile phone will come to end on 15 June 2017. And although this move will be welcomed by businesses and consumers alike, it will no doubt lead to the gnashing of teeth among mobile operators across the Union. The days of fretting about the cost of a search on a Google maps or a quick check on the latest reviews of an attractive looking restaurant will be over.
But how will Britain’s departure from the EU in March 2019 change the picture? As with much related to Brexit, the wholly correct answer is that we don’t yet know. However unlike other aspects of the breakup, there are some things that we can predict with relative confidence. What’s more, there is some advice we can offer to any business faced with renegotiating its mobile contract while waiting for more details to emerge.
Let’s first look at the position of British resident businesses. The EU roaming rules were first implemented under EU Regulation 2015/2120. Unlike another form of legislative act, the EU Directive, a Regulation has binding legal force in its entirety for all member states. It doesn’t need to be transferred into domestic laws for it to have effect. Conversely when Britain leaves the EU, such rules will cease to exist in Britain, ‘disappearing in a puff of smoke’ as it were.
The Great Repeal Bill
However, given the chaos that would arise if these rules were to magically disappear, the UK government has decided, for the meantime, to keep them. All current EU regulations will be incorporated via an Act of Parliament, known as the Great Repeal b Bill, which will be a giant piece of legislation that Britain is free to amend. So on the face of it, on the day that the UK leaves the EU, the roaming regulations regime that currently stands in Britain will remain in place.
For this position to change, the UK Government would need to subsequently repeal the roaming regulations. And, unpopular as this would be, it might well be seen as a good idea in some quarters. The opportunity to unburden British business from the dead hand of Brussels bureaucrats has long been touted as one of the great freedoms which leaving the EU will deliver.
However there is also a more pragmatic argument in favour of removing the regulations. Underpinning the consumer regulations are EU rules governing the rates that operators charge each other when their subscribers roam. These rules would also cease to apply post Brexit and UK mobile operators could face ‘unfair’ increases to these wholesale tariffs. This in turn would make the provision of free EU roaming unsustainable.
And finally, telcos would no doubt argue that the removal of ‘legacy’ regulations would allow them to create mobile packages better tailored to the needs of UK residents in a post-Brexit world.
Of course, removal of the regulations does not necessarily mean roaming charges will be reapplied. Competition would undoubtedly limit the ability of operators to raise their fees. This is already evidenced by the widespread availability today of ‘roam like at home’ packages. However, the opportunity to recoup lost revenues from June 2017 onwards will likely prove irresistible for some operators.
Non UK Resident Organizations
In many ways the situation for EU businesses outside the UK is less favourable. Once the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 the roaming regulations will immediately cease to apply. Operators will be free to re-introduce roaming charges for travellers to the UK.
The key implication of this for businesses in the UK and the EU is that arrangements will need to be agreed when negotiating any future mobile service contract.. A simple reassurance that service providers will abide by whatever regulations are in place at the time is insufficient. Businesses should insist that no surcharge apply to roaming in the EU and UK into the future. The gains for businesses in terms of both reduced cost and simplification of telecom expense management should not be lightly surrendered. Seeing roaming charges re-emerge in 2019 would be a real ‘Back to the Future’ moment.