Joy for border residents as phone roaming charges scrapped

Phone users in border areas face significant extra charges when their phone switches to masts in the Republic
Phone users in border areas face significant extra charges when their phone switches to masts in the Republic

Roaming charges for mobile phones are to be scrapped, the EU has officially confirmed.

DUP MEP Diane Dodds expressed delight after the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted to abolish the charges on Tuesday.

The charges have long been a major bugbear of those living in the Province’s border regions.

They are levied each time a mobile phone automatically switches its signal to nearby masts in the Irish Republic, and can leave customers racking up significant bills.

The measures will not take full effect until June 15, 2017, but the cost of such charges is to start being cut from summer 2016.

The end of roaming charges had been in the pipeline since at least June this year, but Tuesday’s vote confirms the move.

Mrs Dodds said: “This is an issue I have been working on since being elected and I am delighted that colleagues in the European Parliament have voted by an overwhelming majority to scrap EU roaming charges once and for all.”

She added: “As we have seen countless times in the media people are being caught out by huge bills when downloading music or other data during their European holidays, ranging from hundreds to thousands of pounds.

“This landmark vote was a long time coming and I welcome the fact that people in Northern Ireland, and indeed millions of people across the EU, will be positively affected by this move.”

Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said that the charges had represented “a thorn in the side” of residents in the border areas, and said: “Whilst we welcome the commitment that the charges will be removed eventually, it is regrettable that following the vote today, these charges will continue until June 2017.

“For those commuting regularly across the border, this results in a further penalty of an increased phone bill. It is also places a barrier for start-ups and cross border co-operation.”

The charges will become cheaper from April next year, when operators will only be able to charge a small additional amount to domestic prices of up to €0.05 (3p) per minute of call made, €0.02 (1p) per SMS sent, and €0.05 (3p) per MB of data, excluding VAT.

And under new net neutrality rules, users across the EU will be free to access the content of their choice and will no longer be unfairly blocked or slowed down.

This means access to a start-up company’s website will not be unfairly slowed down to make way for bigger companies.

No service will be hampered because it does not pay an additional fee to internet service providers.

European Commission vice president Andrus Ansip, responsible for the Digital Single Market, said: “The voice of Europeans has been heard.”