Roaming charges end in the EU, but Brexit confusion dampens celebrations

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Update: Added news the EU roaming regulation is now in force.

Mobile roaming charges for Europeans traveling to other European countries are no more. From June 15, 2017, travelers making a call, sending a text message, or using data will pay exactly the same as they do at home. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement: “Roaming charges will now be a thing of the past. As of June 15, you will be able to remain connected while traveling in the EU, for the same price as at home.”

The agreement was finalized in February, and had been a long time coming. Preliminary agreements were made in June 2015, but negotiations had been happening for a decade. What does it mean to you? If you’re an EU citizen, and travel to another EU country, you won’t pay extra for using your phone. The commission calls this a “roam-like-at-home” plan. 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 new caps will come into play if you go over the permitted use. 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 in February had fallen by 90 percent since 2007.

Concerns dampen 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 some operators opting out of the agreement, which is possible if the company can prove it will reduce revenue by at least 3 percent. Networks in Estonia, Lithuania, and other Scandinavian countries have all applied for an exemption, according to Reuters. There are also concerns networks will raise costs for local subscribers to offset the roaming revenue hit, particularly in tourist-heavy regions.

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. However, the roaming agreement is an EU regulation, and won’t become part of U.K. law, so it will need to be adopted by the post-Brexit government to stay in place. 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.