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Roaming charges to end in EU, but Brexit confusion may dampen celebrations

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The European Commission has stuck to its promise of ending roaming charges by June this year. It announced that agreements have been finalized enabling European travelers to use their phones throughout the European Union, without additional charges, from June 15, 2017. It has been a long time coming. Preliminary agreements were made in June 2015, setting the scene for what’s known as the “roam-like-at-home” plan, of which the latest wholesale price structure deal was the final part.

Agreeing on a wholesale price was crucial, as it’s the amount of money networks charge each other when you make calls, send messages, or use data. The deal doesn’t mean everything will be free. Instead it means the services you use while roaming will be charged at the same rate you pay when on your home network. It joins up with a previous rule where networks will let you use your included minutes and data abroad, and the new caps will come into play if you go over the permitted use.

More: How to avoid roaming charges while abroad

The cost caps are 3.2 euro cents per minute for calls, 1 euro cent for SMS, and 7.7 euros per gigabyte of data. The data cap will gradually reduce over the coming years, eventually reaching 2.5 euros per gigabyte at the beginning of 2022. It’s the end of a successful effort to reduce the cost of roaming in Europe, which has fallen by 90 percent since 2007.

Concerns dampen agreement celebrations

Excellent news, but with it comes some negativity from smaller operators, and confusion from anyone in the United Kingdom, which recently voted to leave the European Union. A response to the agreement from MVNO Europe, which looks after Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) in the region, believes the caps are too high, and smaller operators won’t be able to recover costs. This may lead to travelers on prepaid or lower-cost plans being unable to enjoy the reduced charges.

For British travelers, Brexit uncertainty may dampen any rejoicing over the agreement. Scare stories spread at the end of 2016, warning networks in Europe may not have to honor any cost caps for U.K. visitors following Brexit, if a favorable trade deal isn’t reached. Worst case scenario is the return of massive phone bills for careless travelers, with a megabyte of data potentially costing up to 10 euros.

For now, European law still applies in the U.K. at least until it officially leaves the EU; and new EU president Joseph Muscat wants EU law to remain even after Brexit. However, talks regarding the legal complexities of the split haven’t officially started yet, and because a transition deal is expected to take between two and five years to complete, the fate of “roam-like-at-home” for Britain will remain yet another unknown aspect of Brexit for quite some time.