British operator EE is planning to reintroduce fees for roaming in the EU from next year while others are lowering their existing fair use policies.
Back in 2018, I wrote an opinion piece that roaming fees were unlikely to make a return. Anti-Brexit campaigner and Labour MP Hilary Benn tweeted this week that it hasn’t aged well:
In my defence, all of the operators committed not to reintroduce roaming fees—a pledge they recommitted to as late as January 2021. And, except for EE, they still haven’t.
The EU’s own rules have always allowed operators to “apply a safeguard (fair use) limit on data use while roaming”. With that in mind, let’s look at what the “reintroduction” of roaming fees actually means…
Updated EU roaming policies
O2 will allow customers to roam for free in the EU with up to 25GB of data per month. If customers are getting through that amount – especially with the prevalence of free WiFi – they must be having either a very boring holiday or a particularly intensive business trip.
Three UK had a 20GB fair use cap while under the EU’s jurisdiction but is reducing that to 12GB per month, which is still a comfortably larger amount of data than most people use in a month—let alone in a week or two (the European average is around 7.6GB per month).
The ‘Feel at Home’ initiative by Three was launched prior to the EU’s free mobile roaming laws and goes further by allowing roaming around not just Europe but many other parts of the globe including the US, Hong Kong, Australia, and 68 more destinations. It’s now called ‘Go Roam’ but remains in place.
EE’s new rules are more complex and questionable.
From January 2022, EE customers roaming in the EU will have to pay either a £2 per day charge to use their allowance or buy a pass (customers on a ‘Smart Plan’ or ‘Full Works’ plan can opt to have the ‘Roam Further’ pass included as one of their ‘Smart Benefits’.)
These rules apply to EE customers that sign up for a new contract or renew their existing one after 7 July 2021.
However, it feels like a self-defeating move from EE that will likely lead semi-regular EU travellers to switch networks. To the operator’s credit, the passes it offers for truly international globetrotters who also roam beyond the EU’s borders are among the most competitive in the market.
Kester Mann, Director of Consumer and Connectivity at CCS Insight, commented:
“BT would not have taken this decision lightly. Roaming is a poisonous term for consumers after travellers were hit by exorbitant prices for years. But this is also a far cry from the bad old days. EE’s £2 per day charge represents a fraction of the cost of an EU holiday.
Still, the company knows it will not be well received by its customers, and that it has handed on a plate a clear marketing opportunity to rivals.”
The UK’s trade deal with the EU says that both sides will encourage operators to have “transparent and reasonable rates” for roaming.
At the time of my 2018 article, then-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said that the government would prevent operators from reintroducing roaming fees if they attempted to do so.
O2, Three, and Vodafone are all still technically doing what’s allowed under EU law and only introducing charges past fair usage caps. However, EE is introducing daily charges and time will tell if the government will ask telecoms regulator Ofcom to step in or whether it will be another failed promise.
Certain opposition MPs would better serve the public by holding the government to account for the promises they – and the companies involved — have made, rather than gleefully engaging in an “I told you so!” on Twitter over one company’s plan to introduce a minor charge next year that could well be reversed.
Find out more about Digital Transformation Week North America, taking place on November 9-10 2021, a virtual event and conference exploring advanced DTX strategies for a ‘digital everything’ world.