Last week the European Commission announced that from this June roaming charges across the union will be abolished and customers can avail of a new “roam like home” facility. Basically, it means that all the calls you make, texts you send and data you use will be the same price as you are charged in your own state. Great idea? Not really.

It’s being touted on the Commission Facebook page as the greatest thing in consumer protection, but, unfortunately, things are not as they seem. The new EU law for “roam like home” actually allows operators to keep charging you massive extra sums for data.

It now appears that a deal has been done with the mobile operators and the European Commission that enables the likes of Vodafone, Orange, and 3 to charge their customers exorbitant prices when they use data abroad. Many of the operators are applying tiny limits such as 1 GB against the local limits of 60-100 GB when their customers are at home.

The news of this broke earlier this week when Irish Independent journalist, Adrian Weckler published an article on the issue:

“While we all slept, our mobile operators persuaded the European Commission that customers don’t need to use Facebook, Google, Gmail, Snapchat, YouTube or Netflix as much when we’re on holidays.

So the Commission, the Parliament and the Council (which is made up of our national governments) have agreed that a token amount of our data when abroad should be plenty for us.”

The Commsiosn will try to explain this off as a start to a new regime that will gradually decrease the charges for data use, but how can that be? Surely it would have been best practice to incur a ruling from the start rather than go through the motion of trying to negotiate a lower tariff every few years? It all sounds it too fishy to me to be honest, and it stinks of a misinformation ploy – they very same act that the Commission has addressed as fake news before. They will no doubt state that roaming charges have changed, but they have done little or nothing to ensure that customers will be treated fairly and not ripped off with measly limits of only having a 1 or 2 GB limit per month when abroad.

In his article, Adrian Weckler asked a spokesperson from the Commission what exactly the rates are.

“No operator with a €20 per month contract is required to provide more than 5.2 GB of data when the customer is roaming while travelling in the EU as of June 2017. It is about what can be considered fair behaviour by the customer.”

It is inconceivable that those in the Commission still believe that calls and texts are the most used means of communication, but somehow I doubt that was the case. And I am thinking that it is all down to keeping the operators happy rather than the customers and citizens of the EU.

Adrian also talks about the so-called perk that data roam is seen as and addresses the argument that trying to enforce some kind of rule on allowance is extremely difficult.

The Commission argues that excluding data from the strict ‘roam like home’ principle was necessary because of wholesale charges that operators charge each other. It also says that the amount of data that ordinary phone customers will be allowed to use free when roaming will gradually increase over the next three years.

But even here, it’s hard to take the Commission at its word. As I type, Irish mobile operators are planning to rewrite their terms and conditions in an attempt to limit EU roaming data to as little as 1GB, even after the June 15 ‘roam like home’ introduction date. Indeed, Three Ireland has already provoked an investigation by the telecoms regulator, ComReg, in relation to its State plan to separate data allowances into ‘core’ and ‘benefit’ categories. If it gets away with this, it can argue that its ‘core’ data allowance (that can be relied on when roaming) is only 1GB, while its ‘service benefit’ allowance at home remains 60GB.

If we are to be truly united across the continent, then communication needs to be accessible to all at a decent cost. It is unfortunate that the sound bytes coming from the Commission are not telling the full story. And yes, eventually this kind of misinformation will be manna from heaven for the eurosceptics who will relish the opportunity to portray the EU as being guilty of selling us a dodgy deal.

I love the EU and I will defend it when necessary, but because I love the EU, I will also defend the principles on which it is built, and one of them is to be truthful and give the people the right information – not just some half-truth that will give more ammunition to those who wish to bring it down. The Commission is not exempt from undermining the principles that the EU stands for.

The European Commission needs to come clean and give the people the exact set of conditions that this ruling has been built on and stop showboating a rule that is swamped in small print.

Roaming charges have not been abolished – they have been taken out, given a snip or two, and put back in the oven until June. It will be the beginning of August when the customers start to contact their mobile operators wondering why they have a huge data bill and finding out that they didn’t have a leg to stand on from the start.

That’s not fair, it’s not right and it’s just fake news.

Excerpts of Adrian Weckler’s article have been reproduced here with kind permission from the author and the Irish Independent.
You can find the full article here.

Ken Sweeney
Committed to idea of supporting aspiring writers and journalists. Serial podcaster.

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